What Is Atherosclerosis?

Heart health is part of health that needs to be taken care of even when a person is at a young age. In the past, heart diseases usually affected those in old ages but nowadays we can see many people even at young age already develop heart diseases due to bad lifestyle. Thus, taking care of the heart is part of health that should be paid attention to and needs to be focused on since it is one of the vital organs in humans. In this article, we will be learning about one of the many heart diseases known as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is a condition affecting the arteries to become hard and narrowed due to the build-up of plaques inside the artery. Plaque is made up of substances such as cholesterol, blood cells and many other substances such as fibrin and waste products. Formation of plaque inside the artery wall made the arteries to become narrow. It also makes the wall of the artery thicken. Both of these changes lead to a low amount of oxygen and nutrients to be supplied to all cells in the body. Atherosclerosis may be confused with arteriolosclerosis but the biggest difference between the two is atherosclerosis is caused by plaque build-up whereas arteriosclerosis is a general term to describe thickened or stiff arteries that can be caused by many conditions such as ageing process, calcium deposits and protein deposits.

In short, atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can affect many arteries in the body and its symptoms depend on the affected arteries. Common form of atherosclerosis is coronary heart disease due to plaque build-up of the coronary artery of the heart, peripheral artery disease due to plaque build-up of the arteries of the limb and carotid artery disease due to plaque build-up in the carotid artery of the neck.

Symptoms of atherosclerosis do not happen immediately until the blood flow is compromised or the plaque ruptured. A person may not feel anything wrong with them until atherosclerosis does cause severe symptoms such as stroke and heart attack. Atherosclerosis is a gradual disease but it can get worse quickly. Identifying risk factors can help a person to acknowledge that they are at high risk for atherosclerosis and take steps to prevent complications. Risk factors include family history of heart disease, those practising bad lifestyles such as eating food laid in saturated fat, and lack of exercises, smoking, those with high levels of blood cholesterol, people with hypertension, those diagnosed with diabetes and obesity.

Whenever a person has risk factors or shows any symptoms associated with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, doctors usually recommend testing for atherosclerosis. This usually revolves around blood tests. Additional tests such as electrocardiogram, heart imaging test, stress test and ankle-brachial index test may be done according to the presented symptoms. For instance, in those suspected of coronary heart disease, apart from blood test, electrocardiogram and heart imaging test can help identify the affected artery whereas in peripheral artery disease, aside from blood test, ankle-brachial index test is recommended to know the severity of the affected artery. Angiography is usually done to get a closer look at the atherosclerosis when doctors already confirm the person does have strong evidence of atherosclerosis.

Treatments of atherosclerosis help to slow down the progression of the disease or to put a halt to it. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease itself. Treatments can be from lifestyle modifications to medicine and surgery. Lifestyle modifications are often too late for those already developed atherosclerosis. Medicine would be the best choice for doctors to help reduce atherosclerosis. Medicines include drugs to lower cholesterol such as statin, blood thinners such as aspirin and antihypertensive drugs to control blood pressure. Antidiabetic medications may be prescribed to lower the high blood sugar level. Surgery is often the last resolution or when a person already faces complications. Common surgery such as bypass surgery and angioplasty are among surgery to treat atherosclerosis by removing the plaque and improving artery condition.

The best way to prevent atherosclerosis is to ensure you are leading a healthy way of living. Do you know that 80% of the risk of atherosclerosis is actually avoidable? Thus, never blame the fact that it is genetic because it only makes up 20%. You should practise healthy living by eating a healthy balanced meal low in trans-fat and saturated fat. You should also incorporate exercise as part of an active lifestyle. Try to maintain a healthy weight. Do consider smoking cessation and avoid drinking alcohol excessively.  Remember to get your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked regularly by going to regular health screening.

Those who are already diagnosed with atherosclerosis should not be feeling low. You still can do your part of preventing it from becoming more severe by following doctor’s advice of taking medications as you should and to have a healthy lifestyle consisting of eating healthy food and exercises. Remember to always keep an eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Never skip any appointment with doctors.

In essence, atherosclerosis is a disease affecting the artery caused by fat plaque. It is a preventable disease and not only affects those at old ages.

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