Medical Overview Definition and Treatment of Atherosclerosis


You probably already know that having high cholesterol increases your risk of a heart attack. Do you know why and how The answer to this question is truly one answer atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty deposits build up on the interior walls of the arteries. When these deposits grow large enough, they block blood flow through the vessel. This leads to angina and heart attacks. Read on to learn the medical definition of atherosclerosis, its causes, how it is related to high cholesterol and how it is treated.


Medical Overview Definition and Treatment of Atherosclerosis

Definition of Atherosclerosis


As described above, atherosclerosis occurs when fatty deposits accumulate on the walls of the arteries. These deposits, known as plaques, have several components. The bulk of the deposit is composed of soft, flaky, yellow material known as atheroma. This is composed mainly of white blood cells and is located on the innermost portion of the plaque. Underneath the atheroma lies a layer of cholesterol crystals. The oldest pat of the lesion, which lies directly against the artery wall, is often calcified and very hard. Atherosclorosis occurs in all of the arteries of the body, but is most prominent in the large, high-pressure arteries including the renal, femoral, coronary and carotid arteries.


Consequences of Atherosclerosis


Atherosclerosis itself is generally symptom-less for years. The first indication that there is a problem is often a heart attack. This occurs either when the fatty deposits in the coronary arteries become large enough to completely block the flow of blood, or when a blood clot blocks blood flow through the very narrow passage that is left in the coronary artery. When either of these processes occur in the arteries of the brain, the result is a stroke. Ischemia is another common consequence of atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when the heart muscle does not get enough blood due to a partial blockage of the coronary arteries. Of course, death due to any of these conditions is the most serious consequence of atherosclerosis.


Causes of Atherosclerosis


In order to understand how atherosclerosis is treated, you must first understand the causes. A diet that is high in saturated fat and cholesterol causes these plaques to form in the arteries. A lack of exercise, diabetes and obesity also cause the process to happen faster. LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol, is a key player in the atherosclerotic process. It carries cholesterol away from the liver to the body's tissues; on the way, it builds up on the walls of the arteries. HDL cholesterol, or good cholesterol is actually protective against atherosclerosis because it carries cholesterol from the tissues and bloodstream to the liver to be broken down.


Treatment of Atherosclerosis


Once the arterial plaques are present, it is impossible to completely get rid of them without surgery. If they are blocking a coronary artery, bypass surgery or angioplasty are often used to open the artery. This allows blood to flow freely and prevent a heart attack. For patients with less-severe atherosclerosis, treatment hinges on reducing LDL cholesterol levels and increasing HDL levels. A low-fat, high fiber diet, plenty of exercise and statin drugs are the commonly prescribed treatments for high LDL cholesterol. Niacin supplements are also often used to increase HDL.


It is far easier to prevent atherosclerosis than it is to treat it. If you are worried about your risk of heart disease or have high cholesterol, take measures to reduce your LDL and increase your HDL today. Doing so reduces the build-up of plaque in your arteries and prevents future heart attacks or strokes.