Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart and other parts of the body.
When the inner linings of these arteries fill with fat, cholesterol, and other substances that form plaque clogs them, atherosclerosis develops.
As this plaque forms, the artery wall thickens and loses its elasticity. One of the problems with this disease is that it tends to develop quite quickly. Atherosclerosis affects both medium and large arteries.
As the body ages, hardening of the arteries becomes common among patients: plaque builds up and narrows the arteries, making them stiffer.
Clots can form in these narrow arteries and block blood flow, but they can also break off pieces of plaque and travel to smaller vessels, blocking blood and oxygen.
Some circumstances can become risk factors and cause the appearance of this condition, such as:
- High cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- High blood pressure
- Sedentary lifestyle.
- Make meals with a high percentage of saturated fats.
Another risk factor, but less decisive when developing atherosclerosis, is having a first-degree relative who has suffered from this disease at an early age.
Men are more prone to atherosclerosis; instead, when women reach the stage of menopause, the risk is equalised between men and women.
At the beginning of atherosclerosis, the symptoms are practically null and do not begin to appear until the obstruction in the arteries is severe. When this happens, a sharp pain occurs in the affected area.
These symptoms usually occur when blood flow to a body part slows or is blocked. In addition, it can cause chest pain and shortness of breath.
The most frequently affected areas are the heart, the carotid artery, the cerebral arteries and those of the lower extremities.
In some people, the symptoms appear when they are at rest, and in others, they only appear when they perform some type of activity.
Risk factors such as the consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking or lack of exercise should be avoided to prevent atherosclerosis.
For this reason, specialists recommend eating a balanced and healthy diet and performing physical activities on a routine basis to avoid the appearance of this type of condition.
Currently, there is no classification by type of this disease.
First of all, to diagnose atherosclerosis, the specialist will carry out a physical examination to check the patient’s symptoms and, in addition, will perform one of the following tests or, depending on the case, a combination of them:
- Cardiac catheterisation: A dye is injected into the affected coronary artery, and then an X-ray test is done. It serves to locate places with narrowings or obstacles and other types of irregularities.
Do an ultrasound test called Doppler, which involves sending sound waves into blood vessels to assess blood flow. If this sound is weak or absent, it will mean a blockage in the artery.
Contrast the blood pressure in the ankles and arms to define whether there is good or poor blood circulation. If the pressure difference is significant, that would mean that the patient has atherosclerosis.
- Perform a nuclear scan when the patient is resting or after doing physical activity; this test can reveal which areas of the heart are not getting enough blood.
Treatment can vary from person to person due to age or health status, depending on where the atherosclerosis is located. But, in general, the procedure to treat atherosclerosis is:
- Modify and reduce the patient’s habits: Reduce cholesterol, smoking or lack of exercise.
- Administer different types of medications, such as anticoagulants to prevent the formation of clots or antiplatelet drugs to reduce the ability of platelets to adhere since they produce clots.
- Surgical treatments include angioplasty, which opens blocked arteries, or a coronary artery bypass, used in angina patients due to blockage in the coronary arteries.
If early treatment for atherosclerosis is not applied, this disease can become a risk factor for heart attacks or strokes.
Specialists recommend that patients at risk of suffering from this condition begin examinations from age 20 to carry out early detection if they have it.
In the case of not having risk factors that can cause it, it is recommended that the first examination in men be carried out at 35 and 45 years of age in the case of women.