Actually, atherosclerosis begins developing in childhood. While the symptoms of atherosclerosis aren’t felt until you’re into middle age or older, this disease develops over decades.
Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque – fats, cholesterol, cells and other substances – on the artery walls. Over time, this plaque narrows your arteries, restricting blood flow. Because this happens so slowly, only when the arteries are so narrow that your organs and tissues aren’t receiving adequate oxygen and nutrients will symptoms appear. Often, atherosclerosis isn’t found until you have a major health event, such as a stroke, heart attack or acute limb ischemia.
By the age of 10, you likely had fatty streaks evident in your arteries, and by the mid-20’s, there was a build-up of fibrous plaque. This is especially true if you smoked or were overweight as an adolescent or teen.
Atherosclerosis can happen in any part of your body, in any artery. There may be plaque in your carotid artery, supplying blood to your brain, and putting you at a great risk of stroke. Symptoms include passing weakness or numbness in your arms or legs, slurred or difficult speech, or a blur or loss of vision in one eye.
Atherosclerosis in your legs or arms causes peripheral artery disease (PAD) and may be evidenced by pain in your legs when walking that eases when you rest. PAD puts you at risk for acute limb ischemia and amputation.
High blood pressure can be a sign that atherosclerosis is in your renal arteries, leading to your kidneys. Left untreated, this can lead to kidney failure.
Atherosclerosis anywhere in your body can cause an aneurysm, a weakened spot that bulges in an artery. Aneurysms can be deadly if they burst, and so should be carefully and regularly monitored by a vascular surgeon.
Talk to your doctor about your risk of atherosclerosis, especially if you:
- Smoke or use other tobacco products
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of a healthy diet
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history of atherosclerosis or heart disease
If you are diagnosed with atherosclerosis, through a preliminary blood test and then ultrasound and other non-invasive testing, the severity of your condition will dictate your treatment. You may be told to quit smoking, increase exercise, lose weight and adopt healthy eating habits. You may be given medications that lowers blood pressure, lowers your cholesterol or reduces plaque buildup. In severe cases, our physicians may use vascular or endovascular surgical techniques to open or clear the plaque from the affected arteries.
While it’s not possible to stop this before it begins – because it began so very long ago – it’s possible to slow or halt the progression of atherosclerosis. You can:
- Quit smoking and all other forms of tobacco
- Exercise at least 5 days a weeks for at least 30 minutes each day
- Eat a healthy diet by eliminating processed foods, increasing your intake of fresh whole vegetables and fruits, using olive oil and reducing or eliminating sugar and sugar substitutes
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Strictly monitor and manage diabetes
- Reduce stress by using deep breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques.
Questions about atherosclerosis treatment and management? Reply to this email or call 815-824-4406. We are happy to help!