Atherosclerosis is a disease caused by narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels due to the accumulation of plaques in the artery. It is, also known as vascular calcification, can cause serious problems by disrupting the blood flow in body. In advanced blockages, permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidney can occur. Atherosclerosis progresses slowly and may not show symptoms for a long time. You may be in the risk group for atherosclerosis if you experience chest pain after a little effort, pain in your legs after walking or if you have a family member who has an heart attack and stroke at an early age. Factors such as smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol may also increase the risk of disease. With lifestyle changes and medications, patients can continue their normal lives. However, a surgery may be required in some risky situations.
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It is a common disease that develops due to plaques accumulated in the arterial walls and is also known as vascular calcification. Plaques are mainly composed of substances such as fat cells, cholesterol, cellular waste, calcium, etc. The arterial wall attached to these plaques thickens and hardens.
Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood rich in oxygen and nutrients from the heart to other tissues and organs of the body. Plaques accumulated in the arterial wall decrease the blood flow to tissues and organs over time. Plaques sometimes break down to form a blood clot, causing serious problems such as stroke.
The arterial wall consists of several layers. The innermost of these layers is called the endothelium. It has a smooth and continuous structure. Atherosclerosis starts when this layer is damaged. When the blood vessel wall is damaged, some white blood cells become active and move into the arterial wall. In the endothelial layer, these cells turn into foamy cells, which are mainly composed of cholesterol and fatty material.
In time, the smooth muscle cells in the middle layer go towards the endothelial layer and accumulate there. Cell residues, cholesterol crystals and calcium also accumulate in the inner layer. The irregular accumulation of these fat-laden cells, smooth muscle cells and other materials is called “atherosclerotic plaque”.
Atherosclerosis starts in childhood. Often, it does not show any symptoms until the plaque breaks down or completely clogs the blood flow. Symptoms vary depending on which blood vessel is affected.
Carotid artery carries blood to the brain. Here are the symptoms of decreased blood flow:
Individuals who are at risk of atherosclerosis should always have regular checks for early diagnosis. Atherosclerosis is a disease that does not show much signs at the initial stage.
When making the diagnosis, the patient’s medical history, physical examination and test results are evaluated.
The risk of hardening of the arteries is higher in people who smokes, are overweight, have diabetes, or high blood pressure. For correct diagnosis, it is very important that people give the doctor the correct information about how much they smoke or family history about heart disease. If there is a suspected condition, the doctor will refer to other diagnostic methods.
Blood sugar and cholesterol levels are measured. If cholesterol and sugar levels are high, this indicates a high risk of developing atherosclerosis. Blood enzyme and hormone levels are also checked in the blood.
Atherosclerosis treatment begins by recognizing the importance of this disease. There is no definitive treatment to restore vascular stiffness. The aim of the treatment is to prevent the disease from getting worse. The main methods used in the treatment of atherosclerosis are:
Blood thinners can prevent plaque formation and blood clotting. They reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. However, blood thinners should be used under the doctor’s recommendation. Statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) are used in people with high cholesterol. High blood pressure treatment is also done with antihypertensive drugs. Medications for diabetes are also used in people with high blood sugar levels.
Surgery can be used as an effective treatment method for people with severe blockages or heart attacks and strokes. The decision of surgery is taken according to the patient’s condition and urgency.
First of all, a doctor’s advice should be taken for safety reasons before any herbal treatment is tried. If it is to be started, it should be started under the supervision of a doctor. The contents of some herbal treatments may alter the effect of drug treatment (especially cholesterol-lowering drugs) and may cause harmful side effects.
The main point of herbal therapies is to affect vascular stiffness by reducing cholesterol and high blood pressure. First, foods containing saturated fatty acids should be avoided. Foods such as olive oil, walnuts, hazelnuts, avocados and fish oil can prevent atherosclerosis from getting worse by lowering cholesterol.
In addition, even though absolute statements are made by traditional Chinese medicine about tens of foods and drinks that are used to prevent atherosclerosis and completely open the veins, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says that more studies and evidence are needed about these claims.
Atherosclerosis itself is not fatal. However, diseases caused by atherosclerosis-related organ damage can be fatal. For example, the patient may die as a result of a heart attack due to arteriosclerosis.
Cholesterol is a waxy, yellow, fat-like substance found in all cells. It is inherent in the body and is found in some foods such as red meat, eggs, butter. Cholesterol is necessary in the formation of vitamin D and some hormones. So it needs to have certain levels in the body. However, its high level can cause many diseases, especially atherosclerosis.
LDL (bad cholesterol) transports cholesterol from the liver to the veins, which causes hardening of the vessels. High LDL level accelerates the formation of arteriosclerosis. HDL (good cholesterol) takes cholesterol from the blood vessels and brings it to the liver, which reduces the hardening of the vessels. When HDL level drops, cholesterol excretion decreases and the risk of arteriosclerosis increases.
Resources and References:1- Atherosclerosis,2- What is atherosclerosis,3- Angioplasty: Balloon angioplasty4- Coronary Heart Disease5- Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease