What is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a progressive process of hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to the buildup of fats on the artery walls (plaques). These plaques will eventually restrict blood flow, and as the blood passes over the roughened artery walls, blood clots begin to form upon them. The blood clots can partially or totally block the artery, causing serious health problems called cardiovascular disease. If it happens in the brain, you can get a stroke. When a coronary artery becomes blocked and heart muscle is destroyed, a heart attack occurs. If plaque builds up in the renal arteries, you have a higher risk of chronic kidney disease. Atherosclerosis can also disturb or block the blood supply to your arms and legs, developing peripheral artery disease. You may experience leg pain when walking, numbness, and even poor wound healing. In United States, cardiovascular disease has been the leading cause of death, with more than 800,000 deaths in 2005.
Atherosclerosis develops gradually and as you grow older, the risk increases. Unfortunately, you may not find any clear symptoms until it severely narrows or totally blocks an artery, causing stroke or heart attack. Nevertheless, it is still possible to detect the signs and symptoms of the disease, depend on which arteries are affected.
Angina (chest pain) is a common symptom when plaque narrows or blocks the coronary arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart. It may feel like a squeeze or pressure in your chest. Activity and emotional stress can trigger or make the pain worse. Taking a rest is the best way to relieve the pain. While plaques in the heart’s smallest arteries may cause symptoms of coronary MVD (Microvascular Disease), like shortness of breath, sleep disorder, fatigue, and lack of energy.
The symptoms of peripheral arterial disease also may appear, such as: numbness in your legs, sores on your feet or legs that hard to heal, thickening of your toenails, changing skin color on your legs, hair loss on your legs or feet, and erectile dysfunction.
When plaque narrows or blocks the carotid arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your brain, you can have symptoms of a stroke. These symptoms include: paralysis (especially on one side of the body), difficulty in speaking and understanding speech, problems with your sight, loss of balance or coordination, sudden and severe headache, and loss of consciousness.
If plaque builds up in the renal arteries, it can affect kidney function. When it gets worse, you may experience some symptoms like changes in how you urinate (more often or less often), tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea (feeling sick to the stomach), swelling in the hands or feet, itchiness or numbness, and difficult to concentrate.