What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is also known as “hardening of the arteries.” It is caused when the arteries (the blood vessels that carry oxygen-laden blood to the heart and other organs) are narrowed due to the presence of plaque. Plaque is made up of calcium, cholesterol, fat, some other substances that are present in the blood. Over time, the plaque can attach itself to the interior artery walls and reduce the blood flow. As time goes on, more and more plaque is built up and this can lead to heart attacks or stroke, sometimes with fatal results.

Arteries Affected by Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis can affect arteries in different parts of the body, not just the ones that go into heart. The arteries in your brain, arms, legs, or pelvis can also be affected.

It’s possible to have atherosclerosis without having any symptoms. You may not be aware that you have the condition until you have a heart attack or stroke.

Treatment for Atherosclerosis

If you have been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, your doctor will recommend some lifestyle changes to treat the disorder. You will need to eat well, which means following a low-fat diet that includes a variety of foods. Lean proteins, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables are all a part of healthy eating.

Getting regular exercise is another part of keeping your heart and arteries healthy. Once your doctor gives you the go-head to exercise, you can start slowly.

You don’t need to join a gym to be active, but you do need to stick to the plan. If signing up for an exercise class will help you to stay motivated to exercise, then do it. Some people find that getting an exercise buddy helps. You can decide to go for a walk regularly or go to the gym together and help each other stay on track.

Since smoking increases your risk of developing atherosclerosis, your doctor will advise you to quit. It can be a hard habit to break, but there are a number of methods you can try. Prescription medications, nicotine patches, gum, and acupuncture are all ways to help you get off cigarettes for good.

New Guidelines for Daily Aspirin Dosage

Aspirin has been shown to help prevent heart attacks, but it also has some risks associated with it, since it can cause gastrointestinal bleeding. Taking a lower dose of the medication can still be effective, however. New guidelines released by U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are different for men and women.

Men between the ages of 45 and 79 should take Aspirin every day only if the benefit (preventing a heart attack) outweighs the risk of bleeding. For women aged 55 to 79, the same consideration needs to be given to the chances of reducing the likelihood of stroke versus the risk of stomach bleeding.

Silent Stroke May Increase Risk of Future Strokes

Approximately 10 percent of the population has had a “silent stroke,” or silent cerebral infarction (SCI). These silent strokes may cause brain damage that results in long-term dementia.

If you have atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat, you are at increased risk for SCIs. This type of stroke is caused by a blood clot interfering with the blood flow to the brain. Unfortunately, recent research into this phenomenon hasn’t determined whether treating the atrial fibrillation will lower a person’s risk of silent stroke. Having high blood pressure is one of the risk factors for SCI. Two others are high systolic pressure (the top number on a blood pressure reading) and higher-than-normal levels of homocysteine, which is an amino acid in the blood.

Scaffold of Cells Repairs Stroke Damage

Researchers may have found a way to use stem cells to repair the damage caused by stroke. In procedures performed on rats, tiny biodegradable balls (.10 of a mm across) were loaded with neural stem cells. Once loaded, thousands of the tiny balls were injected into the rat’s brain. Within seven days, the cells replaced the missing brain tissue.

The next step in the research process is to add a protein to the stem cells that will help the treated areas to grow new blood vessels. These results are encouraging, but it will be some time before this is a treatment option offered to human stroke victims.

Chronic Kidney Disease and Risk of Stroke Linked

Your risk of having a stroke are higher if you have chronic kidney disease as well as atrial fibrillation (AF). Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart beat that may sometimes be picked up when a person’s pulse is taken when the doctor or nurse notices the heartbeats don’t follow a regular pattern. This condition is usually diagnosed through an electrocardiogram (ECG).

A person with impaired kidney function may be at a higher risk of stroke because this condition may lead to a buildup of arterial plaque. Patients with kidney disease and AF may experience an inflammation of the arteries, which also increases their risk of stroke.