Atherosclerosis is a form of arterial degeneration. It manifests itself by the formation of atherosclerotic plaques on the inner layer of the arteries. The atheromatous plaque is made of an accumulation of various products such as fat (mainly cholesterol), calcium and cell waste. Smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, alcoholism, diabetes, high blood pressure or lipid abnormalities such as high cholesterol are factors that aggravate or promote atherosclerosis. It can also be a related to genetics when a family history of cardiovascular events can be traced.
Symptoms vary depending on the arteries affected by the atherosclerosis:
- myocardial infarction in regards to coronary artery disease;
- strokes in regards to the carotid arteries and the brain;
- aneurysms, especially in the aorta;
- occlusive peripheral arterial disease.
A doctor will question the potentially atherosclerotic patient. He will take into consideration both family history and all the risk factors listed above.
Depending on the symptoms shown by the patient, tests may need to be performed: an electrocardiogram, a coronary angiography, a Doppler ultrasound in the arteries of the lower limbs or supra-aortic trunks, an exploration of the neck arteries connected the brain. ..
A coronary angiography is an X-ray of the arteries that lead into the heart, the coronary arteries. A liquid, generally in the form of allergen-free iodine, is injected into the arteries to render them visible. The doctor can thus observe the bloodstream. A Doppler ultrasound in turn uses high-frequency sound waves that bounce off blood vessels to draw images that trace the bloodstream. Hormonal laboratory tests are also be required.
The doctor may prescribe medications that reduce lipid and cholesterol in the blood, or blood thinners to prevent the risk of blood clots. Other drugs are used to fight against diseases that increase cardiovascular risk and that help to control of blood pressure and diabetes ... If an artery has become too impaired by atherosclerosis, surgery may be performed.
It is imperative to understand and to control one's blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, while adopting a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, it is advised to avoid tobacco, to perform regular physical activity, to adopt a low-fat diet, to monitor weight control and drinking, and to manage stress levels.