ATHEROSCLEROSIS – A Known Etiology Leading To a Fatal Condition

Atherosclerosis is a potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged by fatty substances, such as cholesterol. These substances are called plaques or atheromas (NHS, 2013). The plaque further hardens and narrows the walls of the arteries, resulting in potentially dangerous conditions such as:
* Decreased blood flow to the organs and thus improper functioning of the affected organ.
* If a plaque ruptures, it can cause a blood clot that blocks the blood supply to the heart – triggering a heart attack, or the brain – triggering a stroke (Maciejko, 2004)

Conditions involved in Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a major risk factor for many conditions involving the flow of blood. Collectively, these conditions are known as cardiovascular disease (CVD). Examples of CVD include:
* Peripheral Arterial Disease: where the blood supply to your legs is blocked, causing muscle pain
* Coronary Heart Disease: the coronary arteries (the main arteries that supply your heart) become clogged with plaques
* Stroke: where blood supply to your brain is interrupted
* Heart Attack: where blood supply to your heart is blocked

Who is Affected?
Elderly adults are prone to developing atherosclerosis, as the arteries grow older they naturally begin to harden and narrow, leading to this condition. Atherosclerosis is more common in men than women. It is thought that this is because sex hormones used in the female reproductive cycle, such as estrogen, provide some protection against the effects of atherosclerosis (NHS, 2013).

Etiology and prevention
The nature of clot formation, thickening of walls, and clogging of the arteries are unclear. The indwelling factors identified are –

1. High-fat diets and cholesterol
Increased LDL in the body causes coronary diseases such as angina, heart attack and stroke. Cholesterol is a kind of fat that facilitates normal working of the body. Low density lipo-protein (LDL) is ‘bad cholesterol’ that is made up of fat and small amount of protein. They often block arteries. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are ‘good cholesterol’ mostly made up of protein, in addition a small amount of fat. High-density Lipoproteins helps in reducing blockage of arteries.
Foods high in saturated fat (LDL) include:
* biscuits
* cakes
* bacon
* sausages
* processed meat
* butter
* cream
The LDL cholesterol sticks to your artery walls in the form of fatty deposits which, over time, gradually build up and reduce, or completely block, your blood supply (Weber & Soehnlein, 2013).
2. Smoking
Smoking can damage the walls of your arteries, decreases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and therefore increases the chances of a blood clot formation. Heavy smoking can damage artery walls, due to which clusters of platelets will be formed at the site trying to repair the wall. This can cause your arteries to narrow (McConnell, 2007).
3. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can harm arteries. High blood pressure can be caused by:
* being obese
* excessive alcohol consumption
* stress
* smoking
* immobility
4. Diabetes
The excess glucose in your blood can damage the walls of your arteries. If diabetes is not treated, it can cause health problems such as blood vessels, nerves and organs (McConnell, 2007).
5. Obesity
A person being overweight does not directly amplify the jeopardy of emerging atherosclerosis and heart disease, but it highlights potential risk of its development. Following are the potential risks for an obese person
* Risk of developing high blood pressure
* High fat content diet resulting in High Cholesterol levels
* Risk of developing type 2 diabetes (McConnell, 2007).
6. Alcohol
As discussed earlier, excessive alcohol triggers high blood pressure, resulting in arterial wall hemorrhage.
7. Family History
The threat of development of similar health problems is two-fold, if the first degree relative (a parent, or a brother or sister) had history of atherosclerosis heart disease.
8. Ethnicity
Each population group, either that determined by religion or ethnicity, has differences in terms of illness behavior, seeking assistance with health matters and beliefs about illness. Rates of high blood pressure and diabetes are higher among people of African and African-Caribbean descent. People of South Asian descent (those from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) are fivefold times prone to expound diabetes than the rest of the populace. Thus, mounting the threat of this group developing atherosclerosis and CVD (Eckardstein, 2005)
9. Air Pollution
Ambient Particulate matter (PM) has been identified as contributing factor in development of cardiovascular disease. Recent research results recommend that inhalation of polluted air can increase levels of atherosclerosis(Acton, 2013). Researchers found that people living within 50 meters of a major road had higher levels of atherosclerosis than would otherwise be expected (NHS, 2013)

Treating Atherosclerosis
Early identification and treatment for atherosclerosis is very important. Presently, most of the clinical organizations are encouraging all adults over 40 years to undergo cardiac check-up. The main objective is to prevent the development of atherosclerosis which can trigger a serious CVD, such as a Myocardial Infarction. This can be achieved by
* Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthier diet and healthy exercise, yoga or meditation.
* Use of relevant treatment medications, such as statins, to help lower cholesterol levels
* Surgical interventions, such as bypass or stenting or balloon angioplasty, a section of a blocked or narrowed artery are removed (Grundy, 2011).

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