Arteriosclerosis

Arteriosclerosis

A common cause of heart attacks and strokes, arteriosclerosis causes a fatty substance to accumulate inside your arteries. Called plaque, the fatty substance hardens and narrows the arteries, which limits the amount of oxygenated blood that can get to your heart and the rest of your body. When blood is restricted, it can lead to chest pain, a heart attack and pain or numbness in the legs, arms and pelvis, a condition called peripheral arterial disease. The plaque can also rupture and lead to bleeding in the brain, which is medically known as a stroke. Doctors believe that the cells that line our arteries become damaged by high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol, which allows plaque to build up in the blood vessel. A family history of heart disease also increases your risk to develop this disease.

Recently Answered

  • 1 Answer
    A
    Atherosclerosis is a disease process in which plaque (a mixture of cholesterol, calcium, and blood-clotting materials) builds up on the inner walls of the arteries. Atherosclerosis can lead to a heart attack in three ways:
    • The buildup of fatty deposits (plaque) can severely narrow or completely block the coronary artery.
    • The diseased, narrowed coronary artery can encourage the formation of a blood clot (thrombus) that can block the artery.
    • The irritated coronary artery can go into spasm (tighten up), sealing the artery shut.
  • 1 Answer
    A
    AHealthyWomen answered
    Family history is one of the biggest risk factors overall for atherosclerosis. Your risk is greater if your father or brother was diagnosed before age 55, if your mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65 or if you have a sibling with early coronary disease.
  • 1 Answer
    A
    It is recommended that men over the age of 50 and women over the age of 60 with at least one additional risk factor (some of which include diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, a strong family history of heart disease), be initiated on an aspirin regimen of one 81 milligram tablet once daily for prevention of a heart attack or ischemic stroke (due to a clot cutting off blood and oxygen supply to the brain). However, it is recommended to use the lowest dose of aspirin possible to minimize the risk of bleeding, ulcers, and hemorrhagic strokes (due to bleeding in the brain). Aspirin is usually used first line as a platelet inhibitor (prevent platelet clumping). Other platelet inhibitors that may be used in patients who cannot take aspirin, include dipyridamole (Persantine®), ticlopidine (Ticlid®), and clopidogrel (Plavix®). A 15% relative risk reduction in vascular events (stroke, death, and heart attack) has been documented for aspirin compared with placebo. Similar to aspirin, there is an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding with all platelet inhibitors.

    You should read product labels, and discuss all therapies with a qualified healthcare provider. Natural Standard information does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

    Copyright © 2012 by Natural Standard Research Collaboration. All Rights Reserved.

  • 1 Answer
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    Angioplasty and stenting: During angioplasty, a thin tube with an inflatable balloon tip is inserted into an artery in the leg or arm near the blocked or narrowed artery. Blockages are visible on a live x-ray screen. The balloon is inflated, compressing the plaque onto the artery walls. A stent is a mesh tube that is usually left in the artery to prevent it from becoming blocked.

    Aspirin: Patients at risk for atherosclerosis or who have already been diagnosed with the disease may benefit from taking daily anti-platelet medications, such as low dose aspirin, to reduce the risk that blood clots will form in narrowed arteries. Patients should always consult their primary care physician before starting an aspirin regimen. It is generally recommended that patients take one 81 milligram aspirin daily.

    Bypass surgery: During bypass surgery, a healthy blood vessel is taken from the patient's leg or chest and is used to bypass a segment of an artery that has been blocked by atherosclerosis. Alternatively, a tube made of synthetic fabric may be used.

    Fibrates: Medications such as fenofibrate (Tricor®) and gemfibrozil are mainly used to decrease serum triglyceride levels and to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. Fibrates do not have as significant an effect on LDL as other medications. Proper triglyceride and HDL levels are also pivotal for proper cholesterol maintenance.

    HMG-CoA Reductase Inhibitors: Also known as statins, these medications prevent the formation of cholesterol, thereby causing the liver to use LDL from the body. This results in a very effective lowering of serum LDL levels. Examples of statins include simvastatin (Zocor®), atorvastatin (Lipitor®), and rosuvastatin (Crestor®).

    Nicotinic acid: Nicotinic acid or niacin (Niaspan®), also known as vitamin B3, lowers lipid levels by interfering with the synthesis of LDL in the liver. It also potentially increases HDL levels, and may be used for this clinical goal as well.

    You should read product labels, and discuss all therapies with a qualified healthcare provider. Natural Standard information does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

    Copyright © 2012 by Natural Standard Research Collaboration. All Rights Reserved.

  • 1 Answer
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    Cerebrovascular disease: Atherosclerotic plaques may occur in the arteries of the brain. Eventually, the plaque may rupture, which leads to the formation of a blood clot. The clot may block the vessel, cutting off blood and oxygen supply in the brain. This may cause either a transient ischemic attack (temporary without causing permanent damage) or a stroke (which results in tissue death). Strokes may also occur when a plaque ruptures elsewhere in the body, resulting in the formation of a blood clot. A piece of the blood clot may break off (called an embolus) and travel to the brain, occluding an artery and leading to a lack of oxygen and tissue death. Strokes may cause permanent brain damage or even death. Symptoms may include sudden numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, or drooping muscles in the face. A sudden severe headache or blurred vision may also occur.

    Coronary artery disease: When atherosclerotic plaques occur in the arteries of the heart, a person may develop coronary artery disease. This may cause angina, which is chest pain that usually intensifies during physical activity but may also occur at rest. If an atherosclerotic plaque suddenly ruptures, a clot forms, and the heart tissue may not receive enough oxygen and begins to die, often causing a heart attack. According to the National Institutes of Health, coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

    Peripheral artery disease (PAD): Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is the progressive hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to atherosclerotic plaque formation in the arteries of the lower extremities. A common symptom of PAD is intermittent claudication, which is described as pain, fatigue, discomfort, or numbness in the lower extremities (particularly in the thigh or calf muscles) during exercise that resolves with rest. In more advanced PAD, this lower extremity pain may also occur at rest. The lack of blood flow to the extremities results in poor wound healing, which may sometimes lead to amputations.

    You should read product labels, and discuss all therapies with a qualified healthcare provider. Natural Standard information does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

    Copyright © 2012 by Natural Standard Research Collaboration. All Rights Reserved.

  • 1 Answer
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    AAnthony Komaroff, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    Unhealthy foods are not like poison. Arsenic is poisonous, and just one swallow could kill you, but it's not that way with the unhealthy saturated fats in brisket. What slowly makes atherosclerosis build up in your arteries is eating unhealthy fats week after week, year after year. The single meal heavy in "bad fats" (saturated fat and trans fat) makes only a tiny contribution toward atherosclerosis. So I never tell my patients to always avoid unhealthy foods. Life is too short. Celebrations and occasional culinary sins are a part of life. Besides, I'd have to take that advice myself—or be a terrible hypocrite.

    But we're not quite off the hook. Most cases of sudden cardiac death and nonfatal heart attacks occur because blood flow through a coronary artery (the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle) gets blocked suddenly. While atherosclerosis surely contributes to most of these cases, another factor is the tendency of the diseased artery to go into spasm, clamping down so that little if any blood can get through. And there's some evidence that the tendency for arteries to go into spasm is increased for a few hours after people eat a meal heavy in saturated fats.

    My bottom line is to enjoy the occasional indulgence but don't define occasional too loosely. Twice a month would about do it.
  • 1 Answer
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    AAnthony Komaroff, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    The aorta is the body's largest artery. It carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The inner lining of any artery can develop fatty plaques that harden. This process is called atherosclerosis. When the lining of an artery is affected by atherosclerosis, calcium can deposit in the areas of atherosclerosis.

    Seeing calcification in the aorta most likely means there is some atherosclerosis in your largest artery. Such calcifications are often seen in people as they get older. The calcifications themselves are not a risk to you. However, finding evidence of atherosclerosis in your aorta probably means you have atherosclerosis in the arteries of your heart and brain. This increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.

    Similar to other cardiovascular risk factors, these calcifications are a sign that you should be diligent about adopting "heart-healthy" habits. This is especially true if you smoke or have diabetes, an abnormal cholesterol profile or high blood pressure. At your next appointment with your doctor, ask if there is anything else you can do to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

    By the way, you may see advertisements for "chelation" (kee-LAY-shun) treatments. They supposedly remove calcium deposits from the lining of arteries. There is no proven value from such treatments.
  • 1 Answer
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    ARichard Scherczinger, MD, Cardiology, answered on behalf of Carolinas HealthCare System
    Arterial occlusive disease or peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD) results either from a blockage due to atherosclerotic or inflammatory processes, or from thrombus (blood clot) formation (usually associated with underlying atherosclerotic disease).
  • 1 Answer
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    AMichael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    While most of us think of heart attacks and strokes when we think of arterial aging, these are just the most dramatic results, by which time a person's arteries have been severely damaged. That is, the person has gotten old (often as a result of certain lifestyle choices).

    Imagine your arteries as being like the streets in a city. We use the streets of a city to get from place to place. Similarly, your blood uses the arteries as a means to get from one place to another. It uses vessels to carry nutrients and oxygen to the cells and then carry carbon dioxide and other by-products of metabolism away from the cells. But the arteries, just like streets and highways, eventually wear down. They become clogged with fatty buildup, called plaque, or narrowed from swelling and inflammation. The arteries also develop "potholes." That's what inflammation really does: It causes swelling and erosions, "potholes" where plaque can insert itself into the arteries. Clots can then form in the potholes. Clots can grow, break off, and be carried away by blood flow into the small arteries of the heart or brain, or to the arteries to the gonads, kidneys, or any other vital organ. The older and more congested arteries get, the more subject they are to the body's version of traffic jams, blood clots. Just as a traffic jam can affect a part of the city or the entire city, so can congested arteries affect one organ or the entire body. When arteries are congested, the cells do not get the nutrients they need and can suffer from a buildup of metabolic by-products.
  • 1 Answer
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    AVonda Wright, MD, Orthopedic Surgery, answered
    Arteries are the tubes that carry blood away from your heart to your lungs and to all the other tissues of the body. Arteries are made of muscle, and like other muscles in our bodies, they tend to stiffen with age. Stiffening or hardening of the arteries also accompanies a high-fat diet and smoking. In addition, as our blood vessels age, they become narrower. This causes the blood pressure to increase because the heart must work harder to pump the same amount of blood through a smaller space.