Atherosclerosis is a disease process affecting the arterial system of the body. The arterial system of the body is that system of blood vessels that carries blood away from the heart to the body organs.
The exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown, although many factors influence its development. In general, however, atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease that develops after damage has occurred to the blood vessel wall and subsequent repair has taken place. Atherosclerosis doesn’t typically develop suddenly; it is slowly progressive over years or decades.
Smoking, elevated serum cholesterol levels, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and a family tendency to atherosclerosis are all factors that seem to provoke accelerated atherosclerosis by causing damage to the artery wall.
Atherosclerosis causes problems in two general ways. Firstly, the development of atherosclerosis results in a reduction of the blood flow to the part of the body supplied by that artery. Symptoms related to this inadequate blood supply may then develop. If the blood vessels to the heart muscle are involved, a condition known as angina pectoris, or discomfort in the chest, will develop. If the blood vessels to the legs are involved, a cramping sensation called claudication will develop. Secondly, a far more catastrophic problem may develop in arteries affected by atherosclerosis. That is the development of occlusion of the blood vessel secondary to blood clot formation, a process called thrombosis. Thrombosis may result in heart attack, stroke or loss of the affected limb.
A variety of medications are used to treat individuals affected by atherosclerosis. In addition, attention to diet, daily exercise, and avoiding tobacco are mandatory parts of the treatment of atherosclerosis.