By Dr. Suyash Tripathi, Cardiology
The narrowing and hardening of the artery walls due to plaque (a substance made up of cholesterol, calcium, fats and other debris in the bloodstream) build-up is called atherosclerosis. This process of substance build-up happens gradually and puts the flow of blood at risk.
In fact, atherosclerosis is one of the most common reasons for strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular disorders.
The causes of atherosclerosis include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High levels of sugar in the blood
Areas of the artery that are damaged are likely to have plaque build-up which can eventually break open. When the plaque breaks open, blood cell fragments called thrombocytes (or platelets) accumulate at the affected area. These fragments can then stick together, forming blood clots.
The sign and symptoms of atherosclerosis depend upon the arteries affected:
- If plaques narrow the arteries that supply oxygen-enriched blood to the heart (the coronary artery), a common symptom may be chest pain, or angina. Other symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Problems in the rhythm of heartbeats
- If the arteries sending blood to your brain (carotid artery) are affected, the symptoms include:
- Sudden weakness
- Severe and sudden headache
- If the arteries supplying blood to pelvis, arms and legs (peripheral arteries) are affected, the symptoms may include:
- Renal arteries provide oxygenated blood to the kidneys. When they are affected, chronic kidney disease develops and the symptoms include:
- Infrequent urination
- Appetite loss
- Swollen limbs
The only ways to treat plaque formation are lifestyle changes and medications:
- Stop smoking and adopt a healthy lifestyle which means exercising daily for about an hour and maintaining a proper diet.
- Drugs to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure levels are also taken to lower the risk of heart attacks.