• 20Sep

    Symptoms of atherosclerosis – what are they?

    Atherosclerosis is an important cause of premature death and disability in developed population. It has been projected as a leading cause of disease burden globally by the year 2020. This is probably related to changing dietary pattern all over the world.

    What is atherosclerosis?

    Atherosclerosis is a progressive inflammatory disorder of the wall of an artery resulting in deposition of atheroma in arterial wall. This atheromatous plaque consists of lipids and other cells. When these deposits become large enough, they cause narrowing of the lumen of a blood vessel. The blood flow is impeded causing a reduction in delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues and organs. Any ulceration of this plaque results in local clotting of blood which blocks the blood supply acutely. This clot may disengage from this site and block a smaller blood vessel downward as it flows with blood stream and gets stuck finally. 

    What are the risk factors of atherosclerosis?

    There are many risk factors for atherosclerosis. This condition affects various regions of the circulation preferentially and the clinical manifestations depend on the particular organ system affected. These risk factors include cigarette smoking, hypertension, low HDL cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, family history of premature coronary heart disease, age more than 45 in men and more than 55 in women. Certain lifestyle risk factors add to the risk of atherosclerosis. These are the presence of obesity (BMI 30 kg/m2 or more), lack of adequate exercise and intake of high fat diet.

    What are the clinical symptoms of atherosclerosis?

    The clinical manifestations of atherosclerosis depend upon the site of the lesion and the vulnerability of the organ supplied. They are listed below:

    Symptoms of atherosclerosisAtherosclerosis of the coronary arteries commonly causes chest pain or angina. The pain typically occurs over the front of chest which is related to heart. The pain may also radiate towards left shoulder, along inner border of left arm or towards left side of neck. The pain initially occurs on exertion, when the heart rate increases, but the narrowed arteries of heart fail to supple adequate oxygen to myocardium or heart muscle. If the narrowing of coronary arteries is severe enough, it results in myocardial infarction which is characterized by permanent death of a small part of heart. This reduces the ability of the heart to pump blood, thereby further aggravating the symptoms. Some patients develop cardiac failure. The heart fails to supple adequate blood to other organs. The function of these organs is adversely affected. Due to this, they develop swelling of feet, difficulty in breathing and reduced urine output.

    Atherosclerosis of the arteries supplying the brain and spinal cord may result in neurological damage. This may manifest in the form of transient brain ischemia. The patient develops a weakness in a limb, which recovers completely after some time. There is no residual weakness. In more severe cases of atherosclerosis, stroke may occur. There is complete paralysis of the affected part of body. It may be life threatening, and recovery takes months to years. There is always a residual disability.

     In patients with involvement of arteries especially of lower limbs, the patients develop intermittent calf pain. This is called intermittent claudication. The pain occurs on walking a certain distance. Due to less blood flow, the anaerobic metabolic products cause local acidosis that result in pain. This main is relieved on taking rest. In longstanding cases the pain becomes permanent and is called rest pain. This rest pain is due to ischemia or lack of blood supply to the nerves and is described as ‘cry of dying nerves’.

    Involvement of the intestinal circulation can cause abdominal pain especially after meals. This may result in gangrene of the intestine which calls for an urgent surgery.

    Atherogenesis in humans typically occurs over a period of many years, usually many decades. Awareness of this condition is essential to bring about lifestyle changes and prevent some of the diseases associated with atherosclerosis.

    Anna L.

    It’s all about health!
    I have academic background in drugs related Chemical Technology, as well as extensive professional experience in pharma and medical companies. My main area of interest is everyday life medicine. The goal of my articles is to give people informative answers to the questions that bother them, to dispel doubts and some common misbeliefs and also to inspire everyone to keep healthy lifestyle.

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