Atherosclerosis is a condition in which the heart's arteries build up with fatty plaque, composed of fatty substances, cholesterol and cellular waste. The plaque congeals and hardens, forming calcium deposits along the artery walls. The arteries will narrow because of the build-up, restricting blood flow.
Other Conditions Caused by Atherosclerosis
When the blood flow to the heart is restricted by atherosclerosis, sufferers may experience:
- Chest pains
- Shortness of breath
- Blood clots – Arteries can become so damaged that they rupture, causing blood clots to form. These clots can completely stop blood flow.
- Heart attack – If a blood clot occurs in an artery that brings blood to the heart, all blood flow will cease, resulting in a heart attack.
- Stroke – If a blood clot occurs in an artery that brings blood to the brain, blood flow will cease, resulting in a stroke.
- Gangrene – If a blood clot occurs in an artery that brings blood to an extremity, such as an arm or leg, the blood flow to the limb will cease. The limb will get gangrene, a condition where the tissue decays. Usually gangrene results in amputation of the affected limb.
- Embolization – If part of the plaque detaches and blocks the artery, the person can suffer from a heart attack or stroke, depending on which artery is blocked.
People who are diabetic, drink heavily, have high blood pressure, have high cholesterol, eat a high-fat diet, are obese, who smoke or who have a family history of heart disease are at higher risk for developing atherosclerosis. For anyone to prevent atherosclerosis, patients are advised to:
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid eating fatty foods, and eat meals low in fat and cholesterol.
- Decrease alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day.
- Start and maintain an exercise routine. If you are not overweight, exercising for 30 minutes a day is sufficient. If you are overweight, exercise for 60 – 90 minutes a day.
- Keep your blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg, and have it checked once or twice a year.
- Have your cholesterol checked at least once a year. If it is high, ask your doctor about changing your diet or starting a medication.