Atherosclerosis Explained

Atherosclerosis Explained

hardening of the arteries

Atherosclerosis is also called arteriosclerosis.  But either word may not mean much of anything to the average person.  In laymen’s terms, it means hardening of the arteries.  If you’ve been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, it’s not something that just happened all at once.  In fact, you’ve spent years leading up to the diagnosis.


Throughout your lifetime fat and cholesterol mix together with other material and begin to line the walls of your blood vessels.  This mixture is called plaque.  As time passes, the plaque becomes hard and gets thicker.  This causes your blood vessels to become more narrow and can even completely block them if it goes untreated.

As you can imagine, it’s difficult for blood to pass through
these narrow vessels.  As a result,
stress is put on the heart.  This leads
to heart disease and can eventually cause a heart attack if there’s blockage in
the actual coronary blood vessels themselves.


In addition, pieces of the hardened plaque can actually
separate from the walls and break away. 
When this happens the small piece flows through the blood vessels and
can actually cause a heart attack or even a stroke. 


In addition, blood clots can form around the rogue piece of
plaque and block blood flow even further.  The clots can also travel to the brain, heart,
or lungs.  The tragic result of this may
be as serious as a stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism.


Unfortunately, there are rarely symptoms of atherosclerosis
until you have a serious issue such as chest pain or even a heart attack.  Early stages of it can sometimes be heard
through a stethoscope, but usually more extensive testing is required to
diagnose hardening of the arteries.


The good news is that if you catch it early, there’s plenty
you can do to keep it from getting worse. 
Your doctor may prescribe a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet in order to
reduce the amount of cholesterol and fat in your blood.  You may also need to increase your physical
activity and work to lose some weight.


In more serious cases, medication may be required to help
lower cholesterol and even thin the blood to prevent clots.  Surgical intervention through angioplasty is
also a treatment option.  A procedure
called endarterectomy can be performed to actually remove some of the plaque
from the vessel walls, though this isn’t as common. 


In very serious cases of blockage, heart bypass surgery may
need to be performed.  This creates a
bypass around the blockage in the heart and can prevent heart attacks from


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