Atherosclerosis is a cardiovascular disease characterized by narrowing of blood vessels due to constant deposits of fats and cholesterol.
Atherosclerosis is a disorder that consists in the hardening and loss of elasticity of the artery walls.
Atherosclerosis affects the arteries and the result is chronic inflammation.
The arteries carry blood to all areas of the body and are lined by a thin layer of cells called the endothelium.
The endothelium is damaged by smoking, fatty deposits and high blood pressure.
These constant deposits lead to thickening of the blood vessel walls. The result is a reduction in the size of the inner vessel space (in which the blood flows).
The accumulation of macrophages (a certain type of white blood cell) additionally determines the hardening or narrowing of the arteries.
The accumulation of cells and cholesterol leads to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.
These reduce the elasticity of the arterial wall and reduce blood flow to the other organs.
This is why we also speak of chronic obstructive arterial occlusive disease.
The process begins at a young age, usually proceeds gently, in fact, no symptoms appear before the age of 40.
The most commonly affected arteries are the carotid arteries, coronary arteries and peripheral arteries. In the kidney area, a hyaline substance can accumulate in the renal arterioles.
Atherosclerosis does not exist in the veins for unknown reasons, but it is believed that the lower venous blood pressure protects the veins.
Causes of atherosclerosis
- High blood pressure
- Excessive smoking
- High LDL (bad cholesterol)
- Genetic or familial predisposition, etc.
Men are more prone to atherosclerosis than women. Usually, women develop this condition after menopause.
Atherosclerosis is a disease of adults and the elderly, but it is a gradual process that begins in childhood. Because even children have fat streaks inside the artery walls.
Risk factors of atherosclerosis
Arterial occlusion occurs as a result of deposition and accumulation of fats and cholesterol inside the arteries.
Risk factors of this condition may include:
- High LDL (bad cholesterol)
- Sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity
- Age, the disease often occurs in the elderly
- Improper diet: high consumption of saturated fat in the daily diet and lack of consumption of fruits, vegetables or healthy foods that are low in fat
- Arterial hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Alcohol abuse
- Helicobacter pylori
Symptoms of atherosclerosis
Symptoms appear when the disease leads to significant ischemia (decreased blood flow).
Common symptoms of artery occlusion include:
- Excessive sweating
- Cognitive deficit
- Shortness of breath
Complications of atherosclerosis include:
- Coronary disease
- Disease of the carotid artery
- Peripheral artery disease
- Aortic aneurysm (bulging of the aorta, which can burst and lead to severe bleeding)
- Senile dementia
Coronary artery sclerosis
AS is one of the biggest risk factors and most common diseases of the heart.
One of the first symptoms of coronary AS is the pain and feeling of tightness in the chest, also known as angina. Often this disease imitates a heart attack.
If left untreated, reduced blood flow to the heart muscle tissue can cause acute myocardial infarction in advanced stages.
If coronary artery sclerosis is chronic, the heart receives a reduced blood volume over a longer period of time. Because of the compensation of the reduced blood flow, the heart function is probably disturbed.
The result is ischemic cardiomyopathy (loss or weakness of heart muscle tissue).
Sometimes the person in question may also develop an arrhythmia.
If the oxygenated blood does not reach the heart, the person may feel:
- Angina pectoris
- Pain in the left breast
- Accelerated heartbeat
Atherosclerosis of the carotid artery
The carotid artery (arteria carotid) carries the blood to the brain.
If atherosclerosis occurs in the carotid artery, the consequences can be tragic and fatal.
The symptoms of cerebral atherosclerosis are the same as in stroke. They include mental derangement, headache, dizziness and loss of balance, inability to move the limbs, etc. In the case of intracranial AS, symptoms can only be observed on one side of the body.
This can be sudden weakness, numbness on only one side of the body, the person may have blurred vision in just one eye, etc.
If both carotid arteries narrow, transient ischemic attacks may occur, which can cause the following symptoms:
- Numbness on one side of the body
- Vision loss on one side
- Tinnitus in the ear
When AS affects the arteries that carry blood to the periphery, peripheral arteriopathy forms.
This condition is characterized by some symptoms of transient ischemic attack such as claudication (pain and weakness in the legs when walking), wounds and skin injuries to legs and arms that heal slowly, change in skin color on the extremities, hair loss and impaired nail growth on the affected limbs.
It can be temporary, but over time it can become so severe that the arm turns blue and gangrene begins.
If atherosclerotic plaque formation occurs together with thrombosis (formation of a thrombus or blood clot), the disorder worsens in a serious way.
An arterial occlusion on the legs can cause:
- Pain in the lower limbs, especially in the legs (below the knees)
Although it is a progressive and generalized disease (occurring in different areas of the body), its development can be prevented by following a healthy diet low in fat and cholesterol and regular physical activity. In some specific cases, certain invasive angioplastic techniques of the coronary arteries and a bypass may be used to remove the occlusions.
Diagnosis of atherosclerosis
To diagnose or rule out this disease, examinations such as:
- blood test to determine cholesterol levels;
- cardiac stress test;
- Color-coded Doppler sonography for atherosclerosis of the carotid arteries (carotids);
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI);
- Coronary angiography to detect blocked arteries and determine the size of the occlusion.
Treatment of atherosclerosis
Medications, surgery and lifestyle changes can help the patient improve the performance of the heart.
Subsequently, some therapies for arteriosclerosis are shown.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs: Treatment of cholesterol helps to slow, stop or even reverse the accumulation of fatty deposits in patients’ arteries.
Some doctors prescribe anticoagulants that act as blood thinners and prevent blood clots from forming.
Antiplatelet drugs: This type of medicine reduces the possibility of platelet aggregation in the narrowed arteries.
In addition to antiplatelet drugs, balloon angioplasty offers a potential treatment option for atherosclerosis. It is used to open the coronary arteries.
Surgery: It is helpful for therapy and is often preferred to medicines. There are several types of surgery to treat this condition, including bypass, which uses a vein or artificial implant.
In addition, endarterectomy (removal of arterial plaque) and graft (restoration or replacement of the vessel) are other surgical methods used in atherosclerosis.
As a rule, this procedure is performed on large arteries, for example on the carotid arteries and the aorta (in the case of arteriosclerosis of the aorta).
Non-drug treatments: One should alternate rest periods with exercise to improve circulation.
One should stop smoking in order to widen the arteries and increase the ability of oxygen transport in the blood.
In addition, one should beware of possible cuts or lesions that increase the risk of infection.
The patient should avoid hydrogenated fats and an excess of saturated fatty acids such as butter or cream. Some doctors also advise patients to stay away from refined and processed foods, pickled vegetables, tea, coffee, white sugar and similar products.
Natural remedies for atherosclerosis
Studies on prevention have shown that atherosclerotic constrictions can disappear without harmful side effects by changing the lifestyle.
A more regulated and healthier lifestyle improves the quality of life.
Cholesterol forms deposits inside the arteries, narrowing them and causing various cardiovascular diseases.
A controlled diet, physical exercises and stress reduction are important to achieve a regression of arteriosclerosis.
The “bad” cholesterol is formed by LDL lipoproteins, which are deposited on the inner walls of the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis, while the “good” cholesterol is formed from HDL lipoproteins, which remove the fat from the blood and stabilize the existing plaques.
The following home remedies help increase HDL levels in the blood.
HDL is an abbreviation that stands for High Density Lipoprotein, while LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein.
Diet and nutrition
Bad eating habits: One should avoid fast food, refined foods or those that have been frozen for too long. Likewise, it is not recommended to eat late at night and skip breakfast or lunch.
High-fiber diet: One should eat more fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, beans, oatmeal, etc. to increase the amount of fiber. A high-fiber diet can help lower cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Foods that contain essential omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and flaxseed, can prevent blood clots and the oxidation of cholesterol.
Also, lycopene, which is found in tomatoes and ginger, prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Vitamin B3 or niacin: helps prevent cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin E: Foods rich in vitamin E, such as sunflower seeds or chard, can reduce inflammation in the artery walls.
Low-cholesterol diet: People with atherosclerosis should follow a low-cholesterol diet.
Foods with saturated fat should be avoided.
Priority should be given to foods rich in unsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, olive oil and canola oil, which help clear the arteries of plaques.
Water: You should drink plenty of water and maintain fluid levels in the body.
Dietary supplements: Some natural supplements can help to solve plaque formations, for example: garlic pills, vitamin E or K supplements, and fish oil.
Plant sterols and stanols: Consuming plant sterols and stanols helps fight atherosclerosis.
Foods that contain these elements: whole grain rice, whole grains, nuts, pumpkin seeds, and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, etc. Many foods are fortified with vegetable sterols and stanols.
Other elements: Green tea, apples, grapefruit, olive oil and apple cider vinegar also help lower cholesterol. Daily consumption of garlic and fish oil increases blood circulation in the arteries.
Pineapple contains bromelain. This substance has antithrombotic properties and prevents the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.
Moderate cardiovascular exercises such as regular walking, swimming, cycling. Jogging, aerobics, dancing, etc. can be effective in dissolving arterial plaques.
Any type of physical exercise helps to lower the level of bad cholesterol, increase the level of good cholesterol and dissolve plaque build-up inside the arteries.
Beginners should follow the instructions of the doctor and physiotherapist.
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