Atherosclerosis is a progressive health condition that results when plaque begins to build up inside your arteries. Plaque, which consists of calcium, lipids and cholesterol, tends to harden and narrow the passageways of your arteries, limiting blood flow to your heart and other organs. In time, plaque build-up can rupture and cause blood clots, or weaken the arterial walls and cause aneurysms. Atherosclerosis is one of the risk factors for peripheral vascular disease, strokes and heart attacks, collectively referred to as cardiovascular disease.
Certain lifestyle habits, health conditions and hereditary traits may increase your risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Common risk factors of atherosclerosis include high blood pressure or hypertension, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, diabetes, poor nutrition and obesity. Unhealthy diet is one of the major contributors to the disease. A diet high in cholesterol, saturated fats, sugar and sodium promotes many of the underlying health conditions and risk factors of atherosclerosis, including hypertension, high blood cholesterol, obesity and diabetes.
What makes atherosclerosis especially harmful is lack of symptoms. Many people who suffer from the condition may not experience any signs until they experience a heart attack or a stroke. However, some people may experience extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping and discomfort or chest pain, especially at the late stages of atherosclerosis.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important ways you can prevent or even treat atherosclerosis. In fact, changing your lifestyle habits may be the only treatment you need according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Healthy diet is a major component of a healthy lifestyle and helps you manage your weight and ensure you are getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs. Diet build around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats, is the basis of heart health. You should avoid foods that are high in sugar, saturated fats, sodium, and refined grains due to their high-calorie and low-nutrient contents.
Another important aspect of a healthy lifestyle is regular activity. Exercising helps lower many of the risk factors associated with atherosclerosis including, overweight, high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute recommends you get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity exercise each week. This can consist of activities, such as walking, jogging, swimming and bicycling.
In some cases, lifestyle changes may not be enough to manage atherosclerosis and your doctor may need to prescribe you medications to help treat the condition. Common medications include; aspirin and other anti-platelet medications that help lower plague build-up and prevent further artery blockage; beta blockers that help reduce blood pressure and relieve chest pain; calcium channel blockers that help reduce blood pressure and relieve symptoms of angina; and niacin and statins that help lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition, your doctor may prescribe diuretic medications to help lower high blood pressure, if that is part of your condition.
If you suspect you suffer from atherosclerosis, it is essential you contact your doctor. Without treatment, atherosclerosis can lead to stroke or heart attack, which can be fatal.