You could have atherosclerosis right now and not even know it. An estimated 80-90% of Americans over age 30 have at least some atherosclerosis in the body. Also referred to as hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis happens slowly over time and contributes to the development of many life-threatening conditions including Coronary Artery Disease—the #1 killer of men and women in America.
What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis occurs in arteries, which are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the major organs in your body. Plaque, made up of fats, cholesterol and other substances, builds up inside the artery and causes it to become thick and stiff. In these hardened arteries, blood flow will be restricted. Pieces of the plaque can also break off and trigger a blood clot, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Risk factors for atherosclerosis:
- Being male
- Being a female past menopause
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history of heart disease
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet
Symptoms of atherosclerosis
The most common symptom is pain on exertion. However, symptoms will vary depending on which arteries in the body are affected. If you suspect you might have atherosclerosis, talk to your doctor. Early detection and treatment can have a significant affect your health.
If left untreated
If left untreated, atherosclerosis can develop into a more serious disease:
- Coronary Artery Disease, which affects the arteries leading to the heart, and can lead to heart attacks.
- Carotid Artery Disease, which affects the arteries on either side of your neck that supply blood to your brain, and can lead to strokes.
- Peripheral Arterial Disease, which affects the major arteries that supply blood to your legs, arms and pelvis.
- Chronic Kidney Disease, which affects the renal arteries, and can lead to the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.
How AAR can help
A safe and painless ultrasound exam at AAR can provide a real-time look at the body’s circulatory system and blood flow. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and see if you might benefit from a vascular ultrasound or Doppler ultrasound.
- Vascular ultrasound, also known as vascular sonography, captures images of the blood vessels inside the body. This exam is useful for evaluating the body’s circulatory system and detecting any blockages, blood clots, plaque or emboli. A vascular ultrasound can also assist in determining if a patient is a good candidate for angioplasty.
- Doppler ultrasound, measures the direction and speed of blood cells as they move through blood vessels. Computers then convert the sounds into graphs or pictures that denote the blood flow. This exam is used to evaluate blood flow through a blood vessel, including the major arteries and veins in the abdomen, arms, legs and neck.