Atherosclerosis is a disease that affects blood flow in the arteries due to plaques buildup. Plaques consist of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium, cellular waste products and fibrin. As plaques build up, the artery wall gets thicker, reducing blood flow and oxygen supply to body cells.
Although atherosclerosis is typically associated with the heart, it can affect any of the arteries in the body. Plaques can totally or partially restrict the blood flow to the brain, heart, arms, legs, kidneys or pelvis. Depending on which particular arteries become blocked and its severity, atherosclerosis can result in dangerous complications, among which are:
- Coronary artery disease. Narrowing of arteries in the heart or those leading to it can result in heart attack, angina and heart failure.
Carotid artery disease. When plaques are formed in carotid (neck) arteries that deliver blood to the brain, it can lead to a stroke or transient ischemic attack (a near-stroke condition that spontaneously improves for unknown reasons).
Peripheral artery disease. When atherosclerosis affects arms and legs, the consequences can be a decreased sensitivity to cold and heat, resulting in increased risk of frostbite or burns, and in severe cases, gangrene.
Aneurysm. Aneurysm or a bulge in the arterial wall can occur anywhere in the body. Aneurysms are especially dangerous because they often produce no symptoms. But if a bulge bursts, it often results in an internal bleeding, which can be life-threatening.
Chronic kidney disease. Inadequate blood supply to the kidneys can lead to chronic kidney disease and renal failure – serious conditions, which require dialysis.
Blindness. If atherosclerosis affects the central retinal artery, an eye occlusion can happen. This means a sudden vision loss in one or both eyes.
Erectile dysfunction. When arteries leading to the genitals are damaged, the amount of blood flow necessary for normal erection and sexual function cannot be delivered to the penis during sexual intercourse.
Mesenteric artery thrombosis occurs when blood supply to the stomach and intestines necessary for digestion is restricted. This condition can bring on a severe abdominal pain right after a meal.
As you see atherosclerosis is dangerous because it can provoke complications in any body organ. And while it is still unknown how exactly it begins, the three possible causes – high cholesterol, hypertension and smoking- should be kept in mind to significantly lower the risk.