Atherosclerosis occurs when there’s a buildup of fats and cholesterol on artery walls. This buildup, also known as plaque, can severely restrict blood flow and lead to several serious conditions, including heart attack and stroke.
Atherosclerosis actually a specific type of Arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the oxygen carrying blood vessels, which can restrict adequate blood flow. However, these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. While Atherosclerosis is often considered a heart condition, it affects arteries throughout the body
Atherosclerosis develops gradually over time, with mild Atherosclerosis lacking any clear warning signs or symptoms. By the time most people notice anything, their arteries have already stiffened and narrowed enough to restrict blood flow. In fact, in rare cases the first real symptom is a heart attack or stroke, which occurs when the blockage breaks apart.
That said, the typical symptoms of moderate to severe Atherosclerosis can vary significantly depending on which part of the body is affected most. For example, atherosclerosis in the heart arteries can cause chest pain and pressure, while atherosclerosis in the arms or legs will generally experience pain when walking.
Another common type of atherosclerosis is in the arteries leading to the brain. This can cause several notable symptoms, including sudden numbness or weakness in limbs, difficulty speaking, temporary loss of vision, or drooping face muscles. It’s important to stay aware of your body to prevent these issues from ballooning into much larger problems.
Atherosclerosis is a very slow and progressive disorder. As such, some research suggests it can even start to develop as early as childhood in some people. The precise causes of this buildup aren’t currently known, but most researchers believe damage in the inner layer of the artery walls may lead to atherosclerosis.
This initial damage could be caused by a number of different things, including high blood pressure or cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and even simple inflammation. Once this damage occurs however, things can become clumped together and start to build a blockage.
Over time, the blockage which is made of mostly cholesterol, can build up and begin to harden reducing overall blood flow. As mentioned, the danger is not just when arteries become fully blocked. The plaque buildup can also break off or cause a blood clot, both of which can cause a severe heart attack or stroke.
The most obvious risk factor of atherosclerosis is aging, as this inevitably leads to hardening of the artery walls. Outside of this, things like high blood pressure or cholesterol, obesity, smoking, family history, and lack of proper diet and exercise, can all directly lead to severe atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is often considered a type of heart disease since it affects arteries, regardless of where in the body. Heart disease at large is the leading cause of death among both men and women, with atherosclerosis being a factor in most conditions. In fact, an estimated 90,000,000 people around the country live with a cardiovascular condition such as atherosclerosis.
If you are worried that you or a loved one may be dealing with moderate to severe atherosclerosis, be sure to contact your doctor as soon as possible. Only they can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan moving forward.