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Atherosclerosis (Diseases of blood vessels)

Arteries carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body. Healthy arteries are flexible and elastic but overtime due too much pressure the walls of the arteries become thick and stiff restricting blood flow to the organs and tissues resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis. In short it refers to the buildup of fats and cholesterol in and on the artery walls which restricts the flow of blood.

Plaques from atherosclerosis behave in different ways

  • They can stay within the artery wall.
  • They can grow in a slow, controlled way into the blood pathway causing significant blockages.
  • Plaques can suddenly rupture causing the blood to clot inside an artery causing a stroke or a heart attack.

The plaques of atherosclerosis cause different kinds of cardiovascular disease

  • Coronary artery disease: Sudden plaque rupture and clotting causes heart muscle to die causing a heart attack, or myocardial infarction.
  • Cerebrovascular disease: When plaques rupture in the brain's arteries, it causes strokes, with the potential for permanent brain damage.
  • Peripheral artery disease: Plaque narrows the arteries of the legs.

The exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown but it sometimes starts with damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery. The damage can be done by:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking and other sources of nicotine
  • Diabetes

Signs of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected.

If the symptom is a chest pain then you have atherosclerosis in your heart arteries.

If the symptom is a sudden numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, or drooping muscles in your face then you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your brain.

A person with high blood pressure or suffering from a kidney failure can have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your kidneys.

Treatments for atherosclerosis are

  • Cholesterol medications: Lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol, stop or even reverses the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries.
  • Anti-platelet medications: This is taken to reduce the likelihood of platelets clumping together and narrowing the arteries or form a blood clot.
  • Beta blocker medications: These lower the heart rate and blood pressure, reducing the pressure to the heart.
  • Angioplasty and stent placement. In this procedure a long, thin tube is inserted into the blocked or narrowed part of the artery. A second catheter with a deflated balloon on its tip is then passed to the narrowed area and then this balloon is inflated, which pushes the deposits against the artery walls. A mesh tube known as the stent is usually left in the artery to help keep the artery open.
  • Endarterectom: In this procedure the fatty deposits is surgically removed from the walls of a narrowed artery.
  • Thrombolytic therapy. If an artery is blocked by a blood clot, a clot-dissolving drug is used to break it apart.
  • Bypass surgery: This surgery involves replacing blood vessel from another part of the body is used to create an alternative route for blood to go around the blocked artery.

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