When cholesterol accumulates on the walls of blood vessels, it can cause them to narrow and thicken. This condition, known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, is the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. Particles can break away from the blood vessels and cause blockages either in the heart or brain.
Diagnostics to detect atherosclerosis include:
Blood tests — Detecting 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 there are any anomalies or unusual conditions present.
Stress test — Measurement of your heart signals and blood pressure during exercise (while walking on a treadmill). The test may include pictures being taken of your heart while you are at rest and after you have exercised.
Cardiac catheterization — A liquid dye is injected through a narrow tube into an artery leading to the heart to allow special pictures to be taken to see if there are blockages or narrowed arteries that could pose a health threat.
Procedures to eliminate or reduce atherosclerosis include:
Medications — Physicians may prescribe certain drugs to successfully reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood.
Lifestyle changes — Reducing the amount of fat and sugar in the diet can lower unhealthy levels of low- density lipoproteins in the blood stream that can cause atherosclerosis. Exercise has also been proven to be effective in lowering cholesterol.
Angioplasty — This minimally invasive, interventional procedure can eliminate a blockage in an artery through a catheter. A balloon is inflated to move the cholesterol from its position in the artery and eliminate the risk it is causing to the flow of blood to the heart.
Stenting — A stent is a mesh tube-like device that is usually used after angioplasty. It is used to support or hold open the area in which there has been narrowing. The tube may or may not be coated in a medication. These stents are called “drug-eluted” stents. The medication is added to keep the stented area from narrowing again over time.
Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) Surgery — During this procedure, surgeons create grafts to redirect the flow of blood to the heart to other arteries, bypassing the blocked areas. This procedure can be performed in the traditional manner — using “open” surgery — or using minimally invasive techniques.
Carotid artery surgery — When plaque builds up in the artery to the brain — the carotid artery that is located on both sides of the neck — it can create a stroke risk. If the particles should break away from the artery wall and move to the brain, a stroke could occur. During this procedure, surgeons make an incision in the neck and remove the plaque from the artery to restore a healthy blood flow and eliminate the risk.