Atherosclerosis is the build-up of plaque or fatty substances in the walls of the arteries, also known as an atheroma. This condition can also be referred to as the hardening of the arteries. This build up can cause the diameter of the lumen of the arteries to decrease, therefore restricting the flow of oxygenated blood around the body, and in some cases block the artery completely. If left alone, atherosclerosis can become a very serious disease, which could potentially be fatal.
As this condition is internal, most conditions of atherosclerosis are not usually identified until they have a medical emergency, for example a heart attack. Angina is a major symptom of atherosclerosis, and can vary with severity of the disease. This is pain or discomfort in the chest when the cardiac muscles have a reduced blood supply. Linked to this, shortness of breath is also a major symptom, as the body’s muscles are deprived of oxygen, which is required for muscle contraction and movement. If the atheromas form in the coronary arteries in the heart, then many other diseases and problems can arise as a result of atherosclerosis. Furthermore, a heart attack may be a sign of atherosclerosis. The blockage of the coronary arteries deprives the cardiac muscles in the heart of oxygen, so the heart cannot function properly. Having a stroke can also be a symptom of atherosclerosis. This is when the arteries transporting oxygenated blood to the brain become blocked, and a blood clot occurs. The main symptoms of a stroke include the weakness or numbness of limbs and/or of the face, and slurred speech..
Major causes of atherosclerosis include: • Smoking • A fatty diet • High blood pressure • Obesity • Alcohol consumption • Family history
Although there are is no cure of atherosclerosis at present, there are different forms of treatment available to make the condition easier to live with. Lifestyle changes such as improvement of diet and regular exercise both help prevent and decrease the severity of atherosclerosis. The “TLC- Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes” programme is an example. By consuming less fatty foods such as chocolate, chips and other processed foods, and consuming foods high in fibre such as whole grain cereals, fruits and legumes, cholesterol levels in the blood should decrease. Reducing alcohol consumption also aids the lowering of cholesterol levels. Amount of exercise per week is specific to each individual, so it is wise that doctor’s advice is taken into account before starting an exercise regime. There are medicines available which can treat atherosclerosis. Depending on the main factors causing atherosclerosis in each individual, different combinations of medicines can be taken, individually or collectively. Doctor’s advice is recommended.
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