Plaque buildup and subsequent hardening of the arteries restricts blood flow in the arteries, preventing your organs and tissues from getting the oxygenated blood they need to function.
The following are common causes of hardening of the arteries:
Cholesterol is a waxy, yellow substance that’s found naturally in your body and also in certain foods you eat. If the levels of this substance in your blood are too high, it can clog your arteries. It becomes a hard plaque that restricts or blocks blood circulation to your heart and other organs.
It’s important to eat a healthy diet.
As you age, your heart and blood vessels work harder to pump and receive blood. Your arteries may weaken and become less elastic, making them more susceptible to plaque buildup.
Many factors place you at risk for atherosclerosis. Some risks can be prevented, while others cannot.
If atherosclerosis runs in your family, you may be at risk for hardening of the arteries. This condition as well as other heart-related problems may be inherited.
Lack of exercise
Regular exercise is good for your heart. It keeps your heart muscle strong and encourages oxygen and blood flow throughout your body. Living a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for a host of medical conditions, including heart disease.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure can damage your blood vessels by making them weak in some areas. Cholesterol and other substances in your blood may reduce the flexibility of your arteries over time.
Smoking tobacco products can damage your blood vessels and heart.
People with diabetes have a much higher incidence of coronary artery disease.
Most symptoms of atherosclerosis don’t show until a blockage occurs. Common symptoms include:
It’s also important to know the symptoms of heart attack and stroke. Both of these problems can be caused by atherosclerosis and require immediate medical attention. The symptoms of a heart attack include:
The symptoms of stroke include:
Your doctor will perform a physical exam if you have symptoms of atherosclerosis. They’ll check for:
A heart specialist called a cardiologist may listen to your heart to see if you have any abnormal sounds. They’ll be listening for a whooshing noise, which indicates that an artery is blocked. Your doctor will order more tests if they think you may have atherosclerosis. These tests can include:
Treatment involves changing your current lifestyle to one that limits the amount of fat and cholesterol you consume. You may need to exercise more to improve the health of your heart and blood vessels.
You may also need additional medical treatments, such as:
Medications can help prevent atherosclerosis from worsening. Medications include:
In some cases, surgery may be necessary if symptoms are especially severe, or if muscle or skin tissue are endangered. Possible surgeries for treating atherosclerosis include:
Lifestyle changes can help to prevent as well as treat atherosclerosis. Unless your atherosclerosis is severe, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes as the first line of treatment. Lifestyle changes include: