Atherosclerosis

Heart Conditions in Adults - Atherosclerosis

What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis caused by a build-up of plaque in the inner lining of an artery. (Arteriosclerosis is a general term for thickening or hardening of the arteries.) Plaque is made up of deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin, and can develop in medium or large arteries. The artery wall becomes thickened and loses its elasticity.

Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may start as early as childhood. However, the disease has the potential to progress rapidly.

What causes atherosclerosis?

It is unknown exactly how atherosclerosis begins or what causes it. Some scientists think that certain risk factors may be associated with atherosclerosis, including:

How does the disease progress?

There is a gradual build-up of plaque or thickening of the inside of the walls of the artery, causing a decrease in the amount of blood flow, and a decrease in the oxygen supply to the vital body organs and extremities.

A heart attack may occur if the oxygenated blood supply is reduced to the heart. A stroke may occur if the oxygenated blood supply is cut off to the brain. Gangrene may occur if the oxygenated blood supply is reduced to the arms and legs.

What are the symptoms of atherosclerosis?

Signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis may develop gradually, and may be few, as the plaque builds up in the artery. Symptoms may also vary depending on the affected artery. However, when a major artery is blocked, signs and symptoms may be severe, such as those occurring with heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or blood clot.

The symptoms of atherosclerosis may resemble other cardiac conditions. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is atherosclerosis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for atherosclerosis may include any, or a combination of, the following:

Treatment for atherosclerosis:

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

Treatment may include:

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