Atherosclerosis refers to the narrowing of arterial blood vessels because of the accumulation of plaque. Arteries are responsible for transporting both nutrients and oxygen from the heart to other parts of the body. As one ages, calcium, cholesterol, and fats accumulate within the arteries, forming plaque. Accumulation of plaque inhibits the proper flow of blood through the arterial vessels. The plaque may form within various arteries, including those in the kidneys, legs, and heart.
The resultant effect is reduced oxygen and blood in the different tissues of the body. Plaque pieces may break off to cause blood clots. Failure to manage atherosclerosis early enough may cause heart failure, stroke, or heart attack. The condition is common among geriatrics. Fortunately, it is preventable, and various treatment options are available.
Causes of Atherosclerosis
Plaque accumulation and the resultant hardening of arteries restrict the flow of blood within the arterial vessels. It leads to de-oxygenation of both tissues and organs. Significant causes of arterial hardening include:
As one ages, the blood vessels and the heart overwork in receiving and pumping blood. It leads to the weakening of the arteries. The arteries lose their elasticity, and they become more prone to the accumulation of plaque. The risk is higher in men above 45 years of age and women above 55 years of age.
It’s critical to eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet comprises vegetable oils like sunflower oil, legumes and nuts, fish and poultry, dairy products low in fat, and whole grains. Numerous vegetables and fruits are also necessary.
To reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, avoid:
Avoid unhealthy fats and instead consume unsaturated fats. If you need to lower the blood cholesterol, ensure that saturated fats are not exceeding 6% of the calories you consume. Note that 2000 calories is approximately 13 grams of the unhealthy saturated fats. High plasma concentration of low-density lipo-protein and low concentration of high-density lipo-protein also predispose on to atherosclerosis.
Meals with High Salt Concentration
It is advisable not to exceed 2300 mg of sodium daily. Ideally, your consumption should not exceed 1500 mg daily.
Sweetened Drinks and Foods
Avoid desserts, candy, and sweetened beverages. Men should not exceed 150 calories of sugar a day, while women should not take more than 100 calories daily.
Coronary artery disease tops in causing deaths in the US. Certain habits, conditions, and traits seem to be the predisposing factors for atherosclerosis.
Common atherosclerosis risk factors include:
1. Family History of Heart Diseases
In case a brother or a father developed heart disease before reaching the age of 55, one will be at high risk of getting atherosclerosis attack. The same risk is present when a sister or a mother develops heart disease before reaching 65 years. Even though both family history and ageing are risk factors for atherosclerosis attack, it does not imply that you will get the condition if you have either or both elements.
2. Inadequate Exercise
Routine exercise is healthy for the heart. It maintains stronger heart muscles and propels blood and oxygen flow through the body. Avoid sedentary lifestyles as it predisposes you to numerous medical conditions such as heart disease.
3. Obesity or Overweight
Overweight means extra water, fat, bone, and muscle. On the other hand, obesity refers to excess body fat. Extra fat in the body predisposes one to atherosclerosis as the lipid tissue is more likely to accumulate in the arteries.
In case there is high sugar concentration in the blood, and the body does not produce enough insulin, or there is insulin resistance, one may be at significant risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Smoking tobacco-based products may damage the heart and the blood vessels. Tobacco products cause narrowing of the blood vessels. Besides, they raise the levels of plasma cholesterol and increase blood pressure. Smoking also inhibits oxygen circulation to the various body tissues.
Increased C Reactive Protein Concentrations
Current studies by scientists reveal that a high C-reactive protein (CRP) concentration may predispose one to heart attack and atherosclerosis. CRP gets released in response to an infection or injury. Damage to the inner walls of the arteries triggers inflammation stimulating the growth of plaque.
Individuals with lower CRP concentrations may develop atherosclerosis at a slower rate compared to people with a high concentration of CRP. Studies also reveal that more triglycerides in the plasma increase atherosclerosis risk, more so in females.
Excessive drinking of alcohol may destroy the heart muscles and stimulate the various atherosclerosis’ risk factors. Men should not exceed two drinks having alcohol per day. On the other hand, women should not exceed one drink having alcohol per day.
Anger and stress seems to be the significant trigger of numerous heart attacks.
Sleep apnoea refers to shallow breathing during sleep. If you fail to manage it early enough, it may lead to heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Symptoms of Atherosclerosis
Several atherosclerosis symptoms will not be evident until blockage occurs. The symptoms include:
- Weakness in the leg muscles because of inadequate blood circulation.
- Confusion which is apparent when the blockage in the arteries interfere with cerebral circulation.
- Shortness of breath.
- Pain in the arms, legs, or other body parts with blocked arteries.
- Angina or chest pains.
Bear in mind that atherosclerosis may also lead to stroke and heart attacks. These are medical emergencies that require medical intervention as fast as possible.
Diagnosis of Atherosclerosis
The physician will begin by carrying out a physical examination if you present with symptoms related to atherosclerosis. They will look out for any slowly healing wounds because of the restricted flow of blood, weakened pulse, and aneurysm. Aneurysm refers to abnormal widening or bulging of arteries because of arterial wall weakness.
Cardiologists may also carry out auscultations to detect any abnormal heart sounds. The presence of a whooshing noise reveals a blocked artery. The physician may also order for more tests to assists in diagnosing atherosclerosis. The tests include electrocardiogram, cardiac angiogram, doppler ultrasound, cholesterol profile, and magnetic resonance angiography.
Atherosclerosis treatment focuses on reducing the risk factors and relieving the symptoms to stop, slow, or reverse the plaque accumulation. The therapy involves preventing the formation of blood clots, bypassing, or widening clogged arteries. It also prevents diseases linked to atherosclerosis, together with lifestyle modifications.
For high cholesterol levels, the physician may recommend lifestyle modification. The program consists of weight management, physical activities, and a healthy diet. Foods rich in fibre are essential as they block the digestive tract, inhibiting cholesterol absorption. The foods rich in fibre include legumes, pears, oranges, bananas, apples, and oatmeal.
Diet rich in vegetables and fruits may increase the concentration of essential cholesterol-reducing compounds such as sterols. It operates as a soluble fibre. Fish forms part of a healthy diet because it produces omega-3-fatty acid that prevents inflammation and blood clotting on the heart.
Medications that assist in preventing exacerbation of atherosclerosis include:
- Fibrates and statins for lowering cholesterol levels.
- Anti-platelets and anticoagulants like aspirin which prevents clogging and clotting within the arteries.
- Diuretics may also help in reducing blood pressure.
- Calcium channel blockers and beta-blockers also assist in lowering the blood pressure.
Aspirin is useful mostly for patients with stroke and heart attack history. It will inhibit the re-occurrence of another attack.
If atherosclerosis damages skin tissues or muscles, surgery is necessary. Some possible surgical procedures include atherectomy, endarterectomy, angioplasty, thrombolytic therapy, and bypass surgery.
It involves the opening of narrowed or blocked coronary arteries to improve blood circulation towards the heart. The aim is to prevent heart attacks or relieve chest pains. After the surgical procedure, the physician will place a stent within the arteries to allow the arterial blood vessel to remain open.
4. Bypass Grafting
It involves using arteries from other parts of the body in bypassing narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. It prevents possible heart attacks, relieves chest pain, and improves blood flow towards the heart. Bypass grafting is also possible in the leg region.
With proper management of atherosclerosis, you will observe positive changes in your health, although it requires patience. Successful treatment relies on whether different organs got damaged, treatment response, and severity of the condition. Note that it is not easy reversing hardened arteries.
However, it is possible to manage the underlying cause. Besides, lifestyle modification and diet change will assist in slowing the plaque formation or inhibits its exacerbation. Seek the doctor’s guidance as you modify your lifestyle. Some medications are also necessary to prevent complications.
Atherosclerosis may lead to death, stroke, and irregular heart rhythm. Heart attack and heart failure can also occur. It is also associated with coronary artery diseases and the carotid artery’s disease upon accumulation of plaque within its walls. Interrupted circulation restricts the amount of oxygen and blood reaching the brain cells and tissues.
The lower body and extremities such as arms and legs rely on the arteries’ oxygen and blood. Interruption of the circulation may lead to peripheral artery diseases.
Atherosclerosis within the renal arteries interferes with the kidneys’ filtration role, predisposing one to kidney disease.
Varicose veins result when the veins get overfilled, dilated, and enlarged with blood. Varicose veins appear raised and swollen, with a red or bluish-purple colour. They are painful and common among women. About 25% of adults have the condition, and it occurs mostly on your lower legs.
Factors Leading to Varicose Veins
Varicose veins result when the veins are not functioning appropriately. Veins have unidirectional valves that inhibit the back-flow of blood. Upon failure of the valves, the blood accumulates within the veins instead of circulating towards the heart. Possible causes of varicose veins are obesity, prolonged standing, people over 50 years of age, menopause, pregnancy, and family history of the condition.
Varicose Veins Symptoms
The primary symptoms include misshapen veins on the legs. You may also observe achiness, heaviness, swelling, and pain over the affected area. In some instances, there may be discolouration and swelling. If it’s chronic, the veins will bleed massively, leading to ulceration.
Diagnosis of Varicose Veins
While standing or sitting, your physician will examine the visible veins on your legs. The doctor may enquire about any symptom or pain sensation, and they may carry out an ultrasound to confirm the blood flow. The technique is non-invasive and applies sound waves of high frequency.
A venogram may also be necessary for further assessment depending on the location of the varicose veins. It involves the injection of special dyes into the legs and ultrasound of that area. The physician will get to understand how well the blood is flowing within your veins. Venograms or ultrasounds also rule out the possibility of blockage or blood clot, causing the swelling and pain in the legs.
Prevention and Treatment of Varicose Veins
Most physicians are conservatives when dealing with varicose veins. They will probably advise you to modify your lifestyle instead of aggressive treatments.
To keep off varicose veins or to inhibit worsening of the condition, consider the following:
- Use stockings or compression socks
- Engage in regular exercises to improve blood circulation
- Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight
- Avoid standing for a prolonged period.
In case you have underlying varicose veins, follow the above steps to inhibit other varicose veins from occurring. It would be best if you remembered to raise your legs as you sleep or rest.
The special stockings or compression socks exert adequate pressure to the legs allowing blood to flow to the heart efficiently. Compression minimises swelling.
If lifestyle modification fails or a lot of pain results from the varicose veins, your physician may recommend invasive procedures. Stripping and vein ligation are surgical procedures requiring anaesthesia.
Other Alternative Treatments Techniques
Currently, numerous less invasive procedures are available for managing varicose veins. The techniques include:
- Endoscopic vein surgeries
- Ablation therapy applying radio frequency waves and heat in blocking off veins
- Laser surgery, where light energy is useful in blocking off veins
In most cases, the process recommended will depend on varicose vein location, size, and symptoms.
- Chronic Venous Insufficiency Life Expectancy
- Stages of Vein Disease and When to Take Action
- Symptoms of Chronic Venous Insufficiency
- Varicose Veins Diagnosis & Management Guidelines by NICE
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