It is hardening of the arteries due to deposits of calcium within the wall of the arteries. It is a generalised disease and affect all the arteries all over the body.
Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on your artery walls. This buildup is called plaque. The plaque can cause your arteries to narrow, blocking blood flow. The plaque can also burst, leading to a blood clot. Although atherosclerosis is often considered a heart problem, it can affect arteries anywhere in your body. Atherosclerosis can be treated. Healthy lifestyle habits can help prevent atherosclerosis.
Symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. For example:
If atherosclerosis affect heart arteries, it can cause heart attack.
If atherosclerosis affect the arteries of the brain, it can cause brain stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which, if left untreated, may progress to a stroke. There are four arteries (two internal carotids, called ICAs and two vertebrals, called as VAs) which supply blood to the brain. After entering the skull, these four arteries form a circle below the base of the brain, called as circle of Willis.
Aneurysms. Atherosclerosis can also cause aneurysms, a serious complication that can occur anywhere in your body. An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of your artery.
If atherosclerosis affect the arteries of the arms and legs, it can cause peripheral artery disease, such as leg pain when walking (claudication) or decreased blood pressure in an affected limb. This can make you less sensitive to heat and cold, increasing your risk of burns or frostbite. In rare cases, poor circulation in your arms or legs can cause tissue death (gangrene).
If atherosclerosis affect the arteries leading to your kidneys, one develops high blood pressure or kidney failure.
Risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
- Smoking and other tobacco use
- A family history of early heart disease
- Lack of exercise
- An unhealthy diet
- High levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation
The same healthy lifestyle changes recommended to treat atherosclerosis also help prevent it. These include:
- Quitting smoking
- Eating healthy foods
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Checking and maintaining a healthy blood pressure
- Checking and maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels