Atherosclerosis occurs when fatty substances (plaque) build up on the walls of your arteries, causing them to narrow or thicken. This process can hinder blood flow, greatly increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Because atherosclerosis develops gradually over time and presents few symptoms, it can be difficult to detect early on. Help prevent atherosclerosis from causing serious health complications by understanding the risk factors.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
How We Diagnose Atherosclerosis
The following diagnostic procedures may be used to identify atherosclerosis.
- Blood tests: A high level of cholesterol and blood sugars may mean you are at risk.
- Ultrasound: Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the heart and blood vessels.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): Electrical pulses generated by your heart are measured and evaluated to determine if any heart problems exist.
- Stress test: This test compares cardiac function during exercise and a period of rest.
- Cardiac catheterization: A liquid dye is injected through a narrow tube (catheter) into an artery, allowing a series of rapid X-rays to create a motion video of the heart and arteries.
Treatment Options and Procedures
Heart and vascular experts at Bayhealth may use the following treatments and procedures to eliminate or reduce atherosclerosis.
- Medications: Physicians may prescribe drugs to reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood.
- Diet and exercise: Routine exercise can help lower your cholesterol levels. Limiting the fats and sugars in your diet can reduce unhealthy levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) in your bloodstream.
- Angioplasty: During this minimally invasive procedure, doctors eliminate blockages by using a narrow tube (called a catheter) to inflate a balloon inside your artery. The balloon displaces the cholesterol and returns blood flow to normal.
- Stenting: Typically used after an angioplasty, a stent (which resembles a mesh tube) is inserted into the narrowed artery to support or hold it open.
- Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery: Surgeons create grafts to redirect the flow of blood and bypass the blocked areas. This procedure can be performed in the traditional manner (open heart surgery) or using minimally invasive techniques.
- Carotid endarterectomy: Surgeons make an incision in the neck and remove plaque from the carotid artery to restore a healthy blood flow and eliminate stroke risk.
- Transcarotid artery revascularization (TCAR): During this less-invasive alternative to an endarterectomy, a surgeon makes a small incision in the neck and installs a device to reverse blood flow. A stent is then placed in the artery, allowing the device to capture plaque. Learn more about TCAR.