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Atheroma: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About atheroma

Atheroma is the phenomenon of fatty deposits in the inner lining of arteries, constricting their lumen which may result in obstruction of blood flow. Atheroma which consists of cholesterol and inflammatory cells, occurs as part of a pathological process called atherosclerosis. It is a significant pathological condition which may result in potentially life-threatening problems.

Atheroma: Incidence, age and sex

Atheroma is mainly seen in middle aged or older individuals. Older individuals are more commonly afflicted with this condition. However its incidence has been increasing in young adults in recent times. Men are more predisposed to atheroma formation as compared with women.

Signs and symptoms of atheroma: Diagnosis

Clinical features may be seen when atheroma continuously grows and causes progressive narrowing of the artery. Arteries supplying the heart, the brain, the abdomen and the lower limbs are generally affected. If the coronary arteries supplying the heart get affected, it may lead to angina/chest pain along with breathlessness which typically improves on rest. Occasionally an angina may progress to a heart attack, also called myocardial infarction in which breathlessness and chest pain are not improved on rest. This is a potentially fatal condition which needs immediate medical attention. If atheroma affects the arteries supplying the brain, then it may hamper the functions of brain, thereby leading to a stroke. Sometimes, lower limbs may be involved when atheroma is lodged in arteries supplying the lower limbs. This is called peripheral vascular disorder which may be seen more frequently in smokers. It is characterised by pain in the calf muscles especially on walking or climbing stairs which is relieved on rest. Excruciating abdominal pain along with nausea may occur when presence of atheroma constricts the arteries supplying intestines and other abdominal organs.

Causes and prevention of atheroma

Several risk factors trigger this event of atheroma formation in arteries, of which aging and family history, are most significant. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity, emotional stress and smoking.

Lifestyle modifications like maintaining optimal weight and regular physical exercises like running, brisk walking, cycling and swimming are helpful in preventing the progression of this pathogenic process. Appropriate dietary habits help not only in shedding excess weight but also reduce blood cholesterol and lipids. Low salt along with low fat diet is advisable. Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is advisable. Smoking cessation provides immediate benefit by drastically reducing risk of heart disease and stroke.

Atheroma: Complications

This atheroma may rupture leading to blood clotting around it. This blood clot may remain attached to the arterial wall and is termed as ‘thrombus’. When this thrombus detaches itself from arterial wall and moves freely in its lumen, it is called an ‘embolus’. A thrombus or an embolus are potentially fatal and may lead to partial or complete occlusion of the artery. Atheroma can also predispose to weakening and hence bulging of the arterial wall. This is called aneurysm which is often seen in the aorta, the main artery exiting from the heart.

Atheroma: Treatment

The treatment includes certain medications like anti-hypertensives for controlling high blood pressure. Lipid lowering drugs are recommended in individuals with abnormal values of lipids in blood tests. Lifestyle modifications like weight management, good dietary habits smoking cessation and regular physical exercise are helpful in delaying the progression of the disease.

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