Atheroma is an umbrella term for the buildup of substances in the artery wall or atherosclerotic plaque, which consists of fat, cholesterol, calcium, connective tissue, and inflammatory cells. Atheroma does not happen suddenly; buildup accumulates over time, and atheromas may not appear for months or years. If the buildup accumulates enough, the artery wall will be so narrow it will restrict blood flow and potentially block the artery completely. Blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes may result from atheromas.
While they don't know the exact cause of atheromas, scientists and doctors believe inflammation of the endothelium is at fault. This inflammation is due to a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. The inflammation triggers a particular type of cell that invites fat and cholesterol, ultimately contributing to atheromas. Factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, age, and sex.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder occurring in the body's joints, particularly in the hands and feet. Studies have concluded that rheumatoid arthritis patients are more likely to develop atheroma and atherosclerosis. Two specific biomarkers found in patients with RA are linked to the development of plaque in the arteries.
Veins are the blood vessels responsible for carrying deoxygenated blood back to the heart to be reoxygenated. Veins are not at risk for atheromas. Conversely, arteries take oxygen-rich blood from the heart to all areas of the body. When atheromas affect these arteries, you may experience symptoms of a heart attack or heart disease. Other cardiovascular symptoms include chest pain, weakness, fatigue, sweating, and arm pain.
Atheromas can also occur in the arteries of the brain, but they come with a different set of symptoms. Symptoms include the loss of vision in one eye, slurred speech or trouble talking, severe headache, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, and dizziness or loss of balance.
Peripheral arteries take oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the arms and legs. Symptoms of atheromas in these parts of the body include calf cramping, burning in the feet or toes, toe and foot sores that will not heal, feet that are cold to the touch, and red skin or skin that changes color. Peripheral atheromas are mostly seen in the lower extremities.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with atheromas, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor may choose one of several avenues for diagnosing the ailment. One option is a Doppler ultrasound that bounces sound waves off your arteries to determine the width and blood flow. Another tool for diagnosis is an echocardiogram or an ultrasound of the heart.
Treating atheromas often involves treating the underlying issue. For instance, the doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication to counter high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. In the event of extreme blockages, surgery such as angioplasty can clear the arteries.
Atheromas are often the result of long-time unhealthy behaviors. It is important to reduce these behaviors to prevent atheromas. Quitting smoking has a huge impact on overall health and has the added benefit of lowing the risk of atheromas. Studies show people who quit smoking cut their risk of heart disease in half. Doctors can also recommend supplements that may help prevent atheromas.
Atheromas and other types of heart disease are intimately linked to diet and exercise. Fat should take up no more than 25 to 35 percent of your daily caloric intake. Saturated and trans fats raise the bad type of cholesterol and should be avoided as much as possible. Whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables are the best options for heart health. Being active for at least 20 minutes per day can also lower the risk of developing atheromas.
While atheromas specifically refer to the plaque buildup within the arteries themselves, atherosclerosis is the name of the condition that derives from atheromas and is ultimately the hardening and narrowing of the arteries.
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