March 13, 2015

Atherosclerosis – Part 2

The buildup of plaque occurs over time. Besides natural aging, factors that can increase the risk of atherosclerosis include:
  1. High blood pressure
  2. High cholesterol
  3. Diabetes
  4. Obesity
  5. Smoking and other tobacco use
  6. A family history of early heart disease
  7. Lack of exercise
The complications of atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are blocked. For example:
  • Coronary artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries close to your heart, you may develop coronary artery disease, which can cause chest pain (angina), a heart attack or heart failure.
  • Carotid artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries close to your brain, you may develop carotid artery disease, which can cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
  • Peripheral artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries in your arms or legs, you may develop circulation problems in your arms and legs called peripheral artery disease. This can make you less sensitive to heat and cold, increasing your risk of burns or frostbite. In rare cases, poor circulation in your arms or legs can cause tissue death (gangrene). PAD can also be the cause of amputations.
  • Aneurysms. Atherosclerosis can also cause aneurysms, a serious complication that can occur anywhere in your body. An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of your artery. Most people with aneurysms have no symptoms. Pain and throbbing in the area of an aneurysm may occur and is a medical emergency.
If an aneurysm bursts, you may face life-threatening internal bleeding. Although this is usually a sudden, catastrophic event, a slow leak is possible. If a blood clot within an aneurysm dislodges, it may block an artery at some distant point.

If you think you may have atherosclerosis or are worried about having atherosclerosis because of a strong family history of heart disease, make an appointment with your doctor to have your cholesterol level checked. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do -
  • Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. When you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet. Many blood tests, including cholesterol and triglycerides, require that you fast beforehand.
  • Write down any symptoms you're experiencing. Atherosclerosis seldom has symptoms, but it is a risk factor for heart disease. Knowing you have symptoms such as chest pains or shortness of breath can help your doctor decide how aggressively to treat your atherosclerosis. Do not forget to show the doctor any slow healing wounds or foot ulcers, or heal cracks.
  • Write down key personal information, including a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes, and any major stresses or recent life changes.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins, or supplements you're taking.
  • Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
  • Be prepared to discuss your diet and exercise habits. If you don't already eat a healthy diet or exercise, you can talk to your doctor about challenges you might face in getting started.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For atherosclerosis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
  1. What tests will I need?
  2. What's the best treatment?
  3. What foods should I eat or avoid?
  4. What's an appropriate level of physical activity?
  5. How often do I need a cholesterol test?
  6. What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
  7. I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  8. Are there restrictions I need to follow?
  9. Should I see a specialist?
    10. Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
    11. Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me?
    12. What websites do you recommend?
    13. How can I best manage my diabetes to prevent heart problems?
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions you may have.

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