Atherosclerosis is a potentially serious condition that occurs when plaque clogs up the lining of the body's arteries. Fatty substances called atheroma, along with cholesterol and calcium, harden and create plaque. Over time, plaque builds up and continues to narrow the arteries. Because of this, the movement of oxygen-rich blood through the blood vessels slows immensely, and the individual can develop coronary artery disease or have a stroke. It pays to know the symptoms of atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is incredibly hard to diagnose early as it develops gradually over time. When the narrowing of the arteries is mild, there tend not to be any symptoms. In general, symptoms won't show until the artery is so narrow that it prohibits the blood supply to reach the organs and tissues. Many people who have atherosclerosis find out following a heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the body, and so symptoms are vastly different in each person. These arteries include the coronary arteries, the carotid arteries, the peripheral arteries, and the renal arteries (those that lead to the heart, the brain, the arms and legs, and the kidneys, respectively). In addition, atherosclerosis in different arteries can cause different diseases.
Chest pain can also be a sign of anything from muscle strain to a heart attack. If you're experiencing a chest pain you cannot explain, it may be a symptom of atherosclerosis in your coronary arteries. Complications that arise with a narrowing of these arteries include coronary artery disease and heart attack. It is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing chest pain of any kind.
Narrowing of the carotid arteries can lead to sudden confusion and disorientation. This altered level of consciousness can be distressing if you're aware of it. Memory problems can also sometimes occur alongside confusion which, in their extreme state, are known as delirium. The individual may also appear slower than usual. These symptoms could be a sign of anything from anxiety to a brain tumor or atherosclerosis.
Muscle weakness can affect the face, the body, or both at the same time. If muscle weakness appears in the face, it may cause drooping of the eyelid or ptosis, or difficulty smiling. On the other hand, when the muscle weakness is all over the body, it can be hard to distinguish from fatigue, which can come from mental ailments such as anxiety and depression, or physical ailments such as an imbalance in the body. General muscle weakness is also an early sign of atherosclerosis in the peripheral arteries.
When plaque clogs and narrows your renal arteries, it will affect the function of your kidneys. Kidney problems can cause high blood pressure, particularly when the high blood pressure begins suddenly. Similarly, if your blood pressure worsens for no apparent reason or starts before the age of 30 or after 50, it could point to a problem with the kidneys. As a result, atherosclerosis in the renal arteries can cause such severities as renal artery stenosis or kidney failure.
Trouble speaking or forming words generally denotes a problem in the brain. Doctors are not always able to diagnose atherosclerosis before the stroke occurs. Difficulty forming words, as well as a possible change in character, could be a direct result of atherosclerosis in the cartoid arteries. If someone is exhibiting slurred speech or cannot think of simple words, it is important to see a doctor right away.
Fluid retention causes the ankles or legs puff up. This is a result of fluid overload or swelling in the tissues and could mean your kidneys aren't working properly. In very rare cases, fluid can accumulate in the lungs, which is dangerous. Kidney issues that cause your body to hold on to fluid can become renal stenosis, a potentially fatal condition unless caught early.
Sometimes, when an artery is blocked more than 70% by plaque, the build-up causes shortness of breath. This usually happens when the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Shortness of breath when you've done little to no exercise could signify a problem with the heart. Conditions such as coronary artery disease can be a result of atherosclerosis of the heart, and shortness of breath could be the only symptom.
One of the main diagnostic tactics physicians use to diagnose atherosclerosis is an examination of the body's ability to heal wounds. Slow healing of a wound generally indicates restricted blood flow, which prevents clots from forming. In extreme cases, restricted blood flow can stop the healing process entirely. Anyone with a wound that's taking longer than expected to heal should speak to a doctor.
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