Atherosclerosis is the thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery. Plaque is made up of deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin. As plaque builds up, the artery walls become thickened and stiff. Atherosclerosis, progressive disease that may start as early as childhood. However, it can progress rapidly.
Signs and symptoms may develop gradually and may be few, as the plaque gradually builds up in the artery. Symptoms may also vary depending on the affected artery. However, when a major artery is blocked, signs and symptoms may be severe, such as those occurring with heart attack, stroke or blood clot. The symptoms of atherosclerosis may look like other heart conditions; see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
First, a complete medical history and physical exam will be performed. You may also have one or more of these tests:
Your doctor will figure out the best treatment based on:
Treatments may include:
Lifestyle changes - You can change some risk factors for atherosclerosis such as smoking, high cholesterol levels, high blood sugar (glucose) levels, lack of exercise, poor dietary habits, and high blood pressure.
Medicines that may be used to treat atherosclerosis include:
Coronary angioplasty - With this procedure, a long thin tube (catheter) is thread through a blood vessel to the heart where a balloon is inflated to create a bigger opening in the vessel to increase blood flow. Although angioplasty is done in other blood vessels elsewhere in the body, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) refers to angioplasty in the coronary arteries to permit more blood flow to the heart. There are several types of PCI procedures, including:
Coronary artery bypass - Most commonly referred to as bypass surgery, this surgery is often done in people who have angina (chest pain) due to coronary artery disease (where plaque has built up in the arteries). During the surgery, a bypass is created by grafting a piece of a healthy vein from elsewhere in the body and attaching it above and below the blocked area of a coronary artery. This lets blood flow around the blockage. Veins are usually taken from the leg or from the chest well. Sometimes more than one artery needs to be bypassed during the same surgery.
Plaque buildup inside the arteries reduces the blood flow. A heart attack may occur if the blood supply is reduced to the heart. A stroke may occur if the blood supply is cut off to the brain. Severe pain and tissue death may occur if the blood supply is reduced to the arms and legs.
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your healthcare provider know.