Atherosclerosisis the hardening of a blood vessel as a result of plaque buildup. Fatty deposits of cholesterol and calcium form plaque, which causes arteries to narrow and slow or even stop blood flow. Dependent upon the location of the blockage, it can cause:
- — Loss of blood to areas of the heart
- — Loss of blood to areas of the brain
- — Loss of blood to the extremities
Repeated damage to the inner wall of an artery causes blood clots, called thrombi. They can lead to a further decrease in blood flow or becomes so large that it completely closes off the artery. It could also break into clumps, called emboli, and block off smaller arteries.
Are You at Risk?
Factors that increase your chance of getting atherosclerosis include:
- Family history of the disease
- Age 45 years and older in men; 55 years and older in women
- Male gender
- High cholesterol
- Poor diet
- Lack of physical activity
Symptoms of Atherosclerosis
Early atherosclerosis doesn't have any symptoms. Symptoms may begin to appear as the arteries harden or become narrower or if a clot blocks a blood vessel or a large blockage breaks free.
Symptoms depend on which arteries are affected. For example:
- Coronary arteries of the heart may cause symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain.
- Arteries to the brain may cause symptoms of a stroke such as weakness, vision problems, speech problems or headache.
- Arteries in the lower extremities may cause pain in the legs or feet and trouble walking.
Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA
Most people are diagnosed after they develop symptoms, but you can be screened and treated for risk factors.
These tests evaluate atherosclerotic arteries:
Treatment depends on the area of the body most affected. We offer the following treatment options.
Medication can lower your risk factors and help to:
- Stop the formation of blood clots
- Lower cholesterol
- Improve blood flow through narrowed arteries
Your surgeon inserts a catheter into an artery, most often for arteries in the heart. These procedures include:
Surgical options include:
- Arterioplasty — Repair of an aneurysm, usually done with synthetic tissue
- Bypass — The creation of an alternate route for blood flow
- Endarterectomy — The removal of the lining of an artery obstructed with large plaques. This surgery helps to improve blood flow. It's most often performed on:
- Carotid arteries in the neck that supply the brain
- The aorta
- Iliac and femoral arteries of the legs
- Renal arteries that supply the kidneys with blood
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Call us at 434.243.1000.
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.