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Atherosclerosis is a type of thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery.
Plaque is made up of deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin, and can develop in medium or large arteries causing the artery wall to become thickened and stiff.
Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may start as early as childhood. However, the disease has the potential to progress rapidly.
It is unknown exactly how atherosclerosis begins or what causes it. However, there is a gradual buildup of plaque or thickening of the inside of the walls of the artery. This causes a decrease in the amount of blood flow, and a decrease in the oxygen supply to the vital body organs and extremities.
Certain risk factors are associated with atherosclerosis, including:
Signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis may develop gradually, and may be few, as the plaque builds up in the artery. Symptoms may also vary depending on the affected artery. However, when a major artery is blocked, signs and symptoms may be severe, such as those occurring with heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or blood clot.
The symptoms of atherosclerosis may resemble other heart conditions. Consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, you may have one or more of these tests:
Specific treatment will be determined by your health care provider based on:
Treatment may include:
As a result of the plague buildup inside of the arteries, the blood flow within these arteries is reduced. A heart attack may occur if the oxygenated blood supply is reduced to the heart. A stroke may occur if the oxygenated blood supply is cut off to the brain. Severe pain and tissue death may occur if the oxygenated blood supply is reduced to the arms and legs.
Atherosclerosis may be prevented or delayed by reducing risk factors. This includes adopting a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet, losing weight, being physically active, and not smoking can help reduce your risk of atherosclerosis. A healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, skinless chicken, seafood, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. A healthy diet also limits sodium, refined sugars and grains, and solid fats.
If you are at risk for atherosclerosis because of family history, or high cholesterol, it is important that you take medications as directed by your health care provider.
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your health care provider know.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.