Atherosclerosis is a condition that causes a person's arteries to become blocked by plaque. These blockages make it harder for blood (and the oxygen it carries) to flow through the arteries; this, in turn, means that many of the body's vital organs do not receive the blood supply that they need to fully function.
Atherosclerosis can significantly increase a person's risk of developing several serious conditions, including peripheral arterial disease, a stroke, a heart attack or angina. Read on to learn more about this condition.
Who is at risk of developing atherosclerosis?
There are certain things which can increase a person's chances of developing this health condition. For example, long-term smokers have been shown to have a higher risk of suffering from atherosclerosis, as have overweight people and those who routinely drink large quantities of alcohol. A sedentary lifestyle is also a known risk factor for this illness.
Additionally, there are a number of other conditions which may further increase the likelihood of a person getting atherosclerosis; these include diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.
How can atherosclerosis be treated?
Currently, there is no cure for atherosclerosis. Furthermore, any damage that it causes to a person's arteries is irreversible. However, there are treatments which can help to lower a sufferer's chances of having a heart attack or stroke, and that can reduce the speed at which the disease progresses.
Those who have atherosclerosis are often advised by their doctors to take a daily dose of aspirin, to prevent blood clots from forming. They may also be instructed to make specific changes to their lifestyles (such as quitting smoking, reducing their alcohol intake, losing weight or taking up some form of physical exercise).
If a person has extremely large blockages in their arteries, which have completely restricted the flow of blood, then their doctor may refer them to a vascular surgeon, so that they can undergo a surgical procedure known as an atherectomy.
During this operation, the surgeon makes an incision in the patient's groin or arm. They then insert an extremely fine wire, attached to a catheter and a tiny laser, into the artery. These tools are then used to extract the plaque that is causing the blockage, so that blood flow through the artery can be restored.
This is a relatively minor procedure, which can usually be performed using local, rather than general anaesthetic, and as such, does not involve a prolonged recovery period.