Atherosclerosis: Statistics, Symptoms, Complications, And Risk Factors

Date December 8, 2017

Atherosclerosis can start to develop when you’re still young. As you get older, the disease can get to the point when the blood flow in your arteries becomes restricted or even blocked, leading to serious complications, including a stroke and heart attack.

Fortunately, atherosclerosis is highly preventable, and the prevention involves certain lifestyle changes.

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What is atherosclerosis and how common is it?

Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque accumulates on the walls of your arteries and they become narrowed and less flexible. Atherosclerosis can involve any artery in your body and lead to serious complications such as kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke.

Atherosclerosis is extremely common. WebMD cites a 2001 study which looked at 262 seemingly healthy participants’ hearts. Here’s what the study found:

  • 52% of all participants had some degree of atherosclerosis;
  • 85% of participants older than 50 had it;
  • 17% of adolescents were affected.

None of them had symptoms.

Atherosclerosis can’t be reversed. But there are ways to prevent it, or at least stop or slow down the growth of plaque.

Diseases caused by atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis can decrease or even block blood flow to your organs and body parts and lead to the following:

  • coronary artery disease, which affects heart artery and can lead to a heart attack;
  • carotid artery disease, which affects the artery that supplies your brain with oxygenated blood and can lead to a stroke;
  • peripheral artery disease, which affects arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your limbs and pelvis and can manifest if numbness, pain (especially during physical activity), and slow wound healing;
  • chronic kidney disease, in which the blood flow to your kidneys is restricted, and that can lead to kidney failure.

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What are the symptoms of atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis usually shows no symptoms until the blood flow to an organ or a body part is severely limited or blocked. Some general symptoms include:

  •  chest pain;
  • pain in your limbs or other body parts where an artery is blocked;
  • shortness of breath;
  • extreme tiredness;
  • confusion, if blood supply to your brain becomes limited;
  • muscle weakness in your legs and/or arms.

What are the risk factors for atherosclerosis?

Factors that increase the risk of atherosclerosis are well-known, and most of them can be controlled. They include the following:

  • smoking;
  • high blood pressure;
  • high levels of cholesterol in the blood;
  • insulin resistance and diabetes that results from it;
  • being overweight or obese;
  • insufficient physical activity;
  • a diet high in unhealthy fats (saturated fats and trans fats), cholesterol, salt, and sugar;
  • older age;
  • a family history of heart disease.

How can atherosclerosis be prevented?

It may not be possible to reverse the damage already done to the arteries, but you can prevent further damage and decrease your risk of major complications such as stroke and heart attack by properly managing conditions that may lead to atherosclerosis and making changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Source: NHLBI, WebMD, Medical News Today, HealthLine

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This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.