What Leads To Heart Attacks?

What Is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body become thick and stiff sometimes restricting blood flow to the organs and tissues. Healthy arteries are flexible and elastic. As time passes, the walls in the arteries can harden, a condition commonly called hardening of the arteries. Eventually the walls of these arteries get clogged leading to their narrowing.

What are the Symptoms?

Slight atherosclerosis usually doesn’t have any symptoms.

The symptoms usually don’t happen until an artery is so narrowed or clogged that it can’t supply enough blood to organs and tissues. Occasionally a blood clot entirely blocks blood flow. The clot may break apart and can activate a heart attack or stroke.

Indications of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. For example:

  • You may have chest pain or pressure, if you have atherosclerosis in your heart arteries.
  • If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your brain, you may have sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, temporary blindness, or relaxed muscles in your face. This indicates a transient ischemic attack. If untreated, it can lead to a stroke.
  • If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries in your arms and legs, you may have indications of peripheral artery disease, like leg pain when walking or decreased blood pressure in an affected limb.
  • If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your kidneys, you may develop high blood pressure or kidney failure.

This is a gradually deteriorating disease that may begin as early as childhood. The exact cause is unknown. It may start with impairment or injury to the inner layer of an artery. The damage may be caused by:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Swelling from an unknown cause or from diseases such as arthritis, lupus, psoriasis or inflammatory bowel disease

When the inner wall of an artery is injured, blood cells and other substances may gather at the injury site and build up in the inner lining of the artery.

As time goes, fats, cholesterols and other substances also collect on the inner walls of the heart arteries. This build-up is called plaque. It can cause the arteries to narrow, blocking blood flow. If it breaks, it may lead to a blood clot.

What are the Risk factors?

Toughening of the arteries occurs over time. Aging is a risk factor for atherosclerosis. Other things that may increase the risk of atherosclerosis include:

  • A family history of heart disease
  • An unhealthy diet
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Elevated levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Smoking and other tobacco use

How Does Cholesterol Affect Your Heart?

The problem starts when you have too much bad cholesterol in your body. It is donated to fatty deposits in the arteries called plaque, which can cause heart disease. 

When that plaque builds up, it makes it harder for blood to flow, and these deposits can ultimately break and form a clot that leads to a heart attack, explains experts.

What are the Complications?

This depends on which arteries are narrowed or blocked. For instance:

Coronary artery disease. When atherosclerosis tapers the arteries close to your heart, you may develop coronary artery disease, which can cause chest pain, a heart attack or heart failure.

Carotid artery disease. When atherosclerosis tapers the arteries close to your brain, you may develop carotid artery disease. This can cause a stroke.

Peripheral artery disease. When atherosclerosis tapers the arteries in your arms or legs, you may develop blood flow difficulties in your arms and legs called peripheral artery disease. This can make you less sensitive to heat and cold, growing your risk of injuries or frostbite. Infrequently, a lack of blood flow to the arms or legs can cause tissue death.

Aneurysms. This can also cause aneurysms, a serious complication that can occur anywhere in the body. Most people with aneurysms have no symptoms. If an aneurysm bursts, it can cause severe bleeding inside the body. 

Chronic kidney disease. The condition can cause the arteries leading to the kidneys to narrow. Tapering of these arteries stops sufficient oxygen-rich blood from reaching the kidneys. The kidneys need enough blood flow to help filter waste products and eliminate excess fluids.

How to Prevent this condition?

The similar healthy lifestyle variations suggested to treat atherosclerosis also help prevent it. These lifestyle variations can help keep the arteries healthy:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Exercising regularly
  • Preserving a healthy weight
  • Monitoring and keeping a healthy blood pressure
  • Monitoring and keeping healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels