According to statistics, cardiovascular diseases are the most common cause of premature deaths in our country. One of the most common diseases of this type is atherosclerosis – dangerous and insidious, associated with the risk of numerous complications dangerous to health and life.
From the text you will learn:
- what is atherosclerosis,
- what are the causes of atherosclerosis,
- what are the symptoms of atherosclerosis,
- how is the treatment of atherosclerosis going.
Atherosclerosis is undoubtedly one of the most common diseases of older people , but not only that. More and more often it is also diagnosed in younger patients, even just after the age of 30, and incl. therefore it is included in the group of civilization diseases. The immediate cause of atherosclerosis is the accumulation in the arteries of the so-called atherosclerotic plaque (plaque), consisting of lipids (mainly cholesterol), as well as collagen fibers and connective tissue. Atherosclerotic plaque gradually reduces the lumen of the arteries, obstructing the free flow of blood. This can lead to ischemia of the internal organs. The most dangerous effects of atherosclerosis are strokes and heart attacks, which can even be fatal.
The causes of atherosclerosis
There are many factors that increase your risk of plaque building up in your arteries. People over 45 are most at risk of falling ill, but genetic factors and family predispositions are also important. Atherosclerosis is most often associated with a widely understood unhealthy lifestyle, which includes:
- eating large amounts of animal fats,
- small amounts of healthy vegetable fats in the diet,
- eating large amounts of simple sugars,
- lack of physical activity,
- chronic stress.
Atherosclerosis is more often associated with other chronic diseases, such as arterial hypertension, overweight and obesity or diabetes.
Atherosclerosis – types
Atherosclerotic plaque can be deposited in various vessels of the body and due to this fact the following have been distinguished:
- atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries – atherosclerotic plaque builds up in the vessels supplying blood to the heart,
- atherosclerosis of the brain – in this case, the work of the vessels supplying blood to the brain is disturbed,
- aortic atherosclerosis – the plaque is deposited in the light of the largest artery in the human body, i.e. the aorta, supplying blood to all organs,
- atherosclerosis of the lower extremities – in this case the inflammation affects the blood vessels of the legs.
Atherosclerosis – symptoms and diagnosis
Depending on the type of disease we are dealing with, the symptoms of atherosclerosis may be different. For example, atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries can be manifested by attacks of pain behind the sternum, radiating to the lower abdomen, upper abdomen or arm – if left untreated it can cause a heart attack. Aortic atherosclerosis is very often asymptomatic and is sometimes detected by chance, e.g. when a doctor orders ultrasound of the vessels after disturbing cholesterol test results. On the other hand, atherosclerosis of the legs usually gives symptoms such as numbness and weakness of the lower limbs, their cold, blue skin or hair loss.
As mentioned before, the basis for both the diagnosis and prevention of atherosclerosis is a test that determines the level of cholesterol in the blood, ultrasound of the arteries, which allows you to check possible narrowing and thickening of the vessels, and Doppler ultrasound, during which the doctor will assess, among others, blood flow in the vessels. The following are performed in further diagnostics:
- coronary angiography (test to determine the patency of the coronary arteries)
- angiography (visualization of the inside of blood vessels),
- ECG (especially if complications are suspected).
Atherosclerosis – treatment
The treatment of atherosclerosis is a multi-directional activity. First of all – the patient must eliminate from his lifestyle all factors that may cause atherosclerotic plaque build-up. Animal fats in the diet are changed into vegetable fats, it is also necessary to quit smoking and to be physically active.
Second, the physician may initiate appropriate pharmacotherapy, such as taking antiplatelet drugs to prevent blood clots.
Thirdly, it is necessary to treat comorbidities: diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolaemia. In many cases, such comprehensive activities significantly improve research results and reduce the risk of atherosclerotic lesions worsening.