Atherosclerosis (AS) is a condition characterized by narrowing of blood vessels due to constant deposition of fats and cholesterol. This condition mostly affects arterial blood vessels, and is followed by a chronic inflammatory response. Arteries carry blood to the different parts of the body, and are lined by a thin layer of cells called the endothelium. The endothelium gets damaged overtime due to smoking, deposition of fats, and high blood pressure. This constant deposition causes thickening of the walls of the blood vessel, due to which the lumen of the vessel (from where the blood flows) gradually decreases in size. The accumulation of macrophages, which are a type of white blood cells, further leads to the hardening or furring of the arteries. Over a period of time, the cells and cholesterol accumulate, thereby leading to the formation of plaques. This decreases the elasticity of the arterial wall, which along with the fat deposition reduces the blood flow to various organs. These depositions if large enough can cause blockage of the artery. This condition may even be asymptomatic, and might not cause any symptom till there's been considerable damage.

Symptoms

Unfortunately, AS is one of those diseases that has become infamous as a 'silent killer'. In other words, the symptoms do not appear, until the disease causes significant ischemia (decrease in blood flow).

Coronary AS
AS is one of the most important and common underlying factors responsible for causing various heart diseases. One of the primary symptoms of coronary AS is severe pain and tightness in the chest, which is also known as angina. This condition often mimics a heart attack. If left untreated, the reduced blood flow to the heart muscles could lead to an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). If the condition is chronic in nature, where the heart receives low volume of blood continuously, and to compensate for this, the heart may start malfunctioning in an attempt to cope up. This will lead to a condition known as ischemic cardiomyopathy (loss or weakening of heart muscle tissue). Sometimes, the person may also experience arrhythmias.

Carotid AS
When there is AS in the arteries of the brain, or arteries that supply blood to the brain, the consequences can often be disastrous and fatal. The symptoms experienced by a person affected by this condition will be the same as those of a stroke. These include mental clouding, sudden throbbing of head or headache, dizziness and loss of balance, inability to move limbs, etc. In case of intracranial AS, the symptoms might only be observed only on one side of the body. There may be sudden weakness or numbness in the limbs of only one side of the body, or the person may experience trouble seeing with one of the eyes, etc.

Peripheral AS
When AS affects arteries that supply blood to the extremities, then it leads to a disease known as peripheral artery disease. This disease is characterized by certain transient ischemic attack symptoms, like, claudication (pain and weakness in the legs while walking), sores and wounds on the legs and arms which do not heal quickly, changes in color of the limb, decreased hair and nail growth on the affected limbs, etc. This may be transient in nature, or it may eventually become so severe that the arm may turn blue and undergo gangrenous changes.

Though this condition is progressive, it is preventable. The risk for this condition can be lowered by following a healthy diet that is low in fats and cholesterol, and exercising regularly. However, in some cases certain invasive technique angiography of the coronary arteries and bypass surgery) may be used to remove the blockages.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.