Atherosclerosis is a serious vascular condition that's characterised by a build-up of fatty deposits, known as plaque, in your arteries. These fatty deposits cause narrowing and eventually lead to complete blockages in the arteries, which impairs blood flow and puts you at risk of heart attack and stroke. Risk factors for developing atherosclerosis include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, all of which can damage the endothelium. This is the lining of your arteries, and once damaged, bad cholesterol can permeate the lining and form plaque along your arteries.
Symptoms Of Atherosclerosis
In the early stages of atherosclerosis, patients don't have any noticeable symptoms. When plaque builds up to the point of causing severe narrowing of an artery, you'll experience chest tightness and pain. It's common to develop angina due to blood not being able to travel freely to your heart, and pain stemming from angina can travel outward from your heart to your neck and arms.
Atherosclerosis doesn't improve without treatment, and treatment should be undertaken urgently on diagnosis to minimise the risk of heart attack. Your vascular surgeon will recommend a treatment approach based on the severity of the plaque build-up. Atherosclerosis can be halted using drugs to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure. This approach may be recommended if you've been diagnosed in the early stages of the condition.
Blocked arteries can be widened using a procedure known as angiography. This involves a tube being inserted directly into the target artery. The flexible tube has a balloon attached, and the artery is widened by inflating the balloon along the blocked section. A stent, which provides support to the wall of the artery, can be used to prevent plaque building up in the same section again.
If a large section of an artery is blocked, your doctor may recommend bypass surgery. Healthy artery tissue from elsewhere in your body will be grafted onto the blocked artery at either side of the blockage. This redirects blood flow along healthy arteries, but you'll have to make changes to your lifestyle, such as giving up smoking and exercising regularly, to protect your arteries from further damage.
If you're experiencing the symptoms mentioned above or are concerned about the health of your vascular system, contact your doctor immediately. They will assess your heart health and refer you to the appropriate services, such as dietetics or smoking cessation support, to help you reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.