What is atherosclerosis?

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Atherosclerosis is a medical condition wherein plaque has accumulated in the walls of the arteries.  Plaque mainly consists of fat and calcium deposits that accumulate in the arterial walls over time.  Once the plaque in the arteries gets too thick, it will cause hardening in the arteries and narrowing of the passageway for blood.  When this happens, a person is said to have atherosclerosis and the blockage or narrowing in the arteries will often lead to more serious conditions like strokes and heart attacks among others.

One common complication of atherosclerosis is coronary heart disease.  The arteries are responsible for supplying the heart with blood that is rich with oxygen. With plaque build-up or hardening of the arterial walls, the blood flow to the heart will be slowed down and restricted. When this happens, patients may experience severe shortness of breath and chest pains.  In worst cases, the heart may eventually fail and cause death.  Atherosclerosis may also trigger a stroke in some patients.  The thickened arterial walls will eventually cause the heart to work harder to pump out blood and therefore increase the blood pressure. As blood pressure builds up, small arteries in the brain may rupture and cause a stroke.  Some parts of the plaque may also get dislodged and get stuck in the small arteries of the brain and cause stroke.  In the same way, the same dislodged plaque or thrombus may also affect the other vessels in other parts of the body causing serious symptoms.

In terms of medical management, people who have atherosclerosis are often advised of lifestyle changes.  Exercise and proper diet are typically prescribed to help reduce the hardening and prevent possible blockage of the arterial walls.  There are also cases that warrant some medication or medical procedures to reduce the thickening and hardening of the arterial walls and promote a more normal arterial blood flow.

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