Atherosclerosis — often described as “hardening of the arteries” — is one of the most frequently diagnosed heart conditions in the US. Arteries affected by atherosclerosis are stiff and less flexible due to the buildup of fatty plaque on blood vessel walls.
Plaque can cause blood clots to form, break off, circulate in your bloodstream, and become lodged in another blood vessel — blocking blood supply to your body or vital organs. The buildup of plaque can also severely restrict, or completely block, blood flow in a major artery. Both developments can cause life-threatening complications, such as heart attack and stroke.
At Dignity Health Central California, our experts are committed to your well-being — starting with managing your heart health. Find a Doctor for personal care for atherosclerosis in Central California.
Identifying Atherosclerosis Symptoms
You might not feel any symptoms of atherosclerosis until plaque buildup becomes significant enough to start causing problems. The symptoms you may feel depend on which arteries and organs are most affected.
For example, severe plaque in arteries supplying the heart may cause chest pain (angina). Reduced blood flow to the brain can result in stroke — recognized by slurred speech, vision problems, and weakness on one side of your body.
Additional symptoms of atherosclerosis include hypertension (high blood pressure), leg pain when walking (or with other physical activity), and kidney failure.
Know the Causes of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis can start as early as childhood, as plaque buildup begins to affect your artery walls. The following conditions can contribute to or cause atherosclerosis:
- High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and other fats in the blood
- Arthritis, lupus, and other diseases that cause inflammation of the blood vessels
Smoking is also a major risk factor for atherosclerosis.
How We Treat Atherosclerosis at Dignity Health Central California
Atherosclerosis treatment and prevention strategies often rely on lifestyle changes. Your doctor may recommend the following adjustments:
- Eating a heart-health diet
- Exercising regularly
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Not smoking
If lifestyle changes do not accomplish your treatment goals, you may need prescription medications in order to:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Lower your cholesterol
- Reduce the risk of forming blood clots
Severe cases of atherosclerosis may require surgery. Depending on which arteries are most affected, your surgeon may recommend coronary angioplasty, coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery, arterial bypass in the leg, or carotid endarterectomy.
You can reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis by taking action to minimize the buildup of plaque in your arteries. This includes maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle and following your doctor’s advice in managing existing health problems.
Do you know if your lifestyle is exposing you to unnecessary risk of stroke? Take our free stroke risk assessment to find out, and discuss your results with a Dignity Health Central California doctor.
Dignity Health Central California can help you manage your atherosclerosis in Bakersfield, Merced, San Andreas, and Stockton, CA.