What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is the build-up of fatty material (plaque) inside your arteries. It’s the condition that causes most heart attacks and strokes.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows your arteries.

Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may start in childhood. In some people, it progresses rapidly in their 30s. In others, it doesn’t become dangerous until they reach their 50s or 60s. Some hardening of the arteries is normal as you age.

Common Symptoms

  • Chest pain or angina.
  • Pain in your leg, arm, and anywhere else that has a blocked artery.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Confusion, which occurs if the blockage affects circulation to your brain.
  • Muscle weakness in your legs from lack of circulation.

The cause of atherosclerosis isn’t known. However, certain conditions, or habits can increase your chances of developing the disease. These conditions are known as risk factors.

You can control some risk factors, such as too little physical activity, giving up smoking and improving your diet. Others you can’t control, such as age and a family history of heart disease.

Some people who have atherosclerosis have no signs or symptoms. They may not be diagnosed until after a heart attack or stroke.

Can Atherosclerosis be treated?

Atherosclerosis can’t be stopped and current treatments can’t reverse it. But there are medicines and other medical treatments that can slow down its progress and lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor will tell you what treatment you might need.

How to prevent Atherosclerosis

Preventing the development of atherosclerosis is one of the best ways to treat the condition.

Regardless of your age, there are specific steps you can take to slow down atherosclerosis. Take a moment to consider what changes you can make today, to protect your arteries later.

These steps to limit the risk of plaque build up include a healthy diet, exercise and not smoking.

The rate of developing atherosclerosis accelerates in middle age, and so should your approach to reducing the risk.

Risk factors including high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and smoking become extremely important through these years. Everyone should see a doctor sometime soon after turning 40. He or she can assess your risk factors and provide a treatment plan.

If you have any questions or concerns, contact the Croí Health Team on 091-544310 or email healthteam@croi.ie.