Atherosclerosis is a progressive process that takes several decades to develop, which consists of the obstruction of the arteries of various regions of the body (carotid, coronary, renal, lower limb, aorta, etc.) by the so-called ¨atherosclerotic plaques. ¨, which are elevations of the wall of the arteries that compromise the interior light of the same thanks to the accumulation of inflammatory cells and lipids.
This gradual process of arterial obstruction is influenced by different stimuli that occur in daily life, called risk factors, the most important being diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and hypercholesterolemia. Fortunately, these factors can be eliminated (smoking) or controlled with diet and medications (the other three). There is also a hereditary genetic factor in some patients, which cannot be corrected, but the patient can be subjected to periodic medical check-ups with an emphasis on disease prevention.
The diffuse involvement of this disease (also called arteriosclerosis and atheromatosis) causes different types of diseases depending on the irrigation territory. In the coronary territory it produces angina pectoris and can end in a heart attack, in the cerebral territory it can cause temporary blindness or the so-called cerebrovascular accident or CVA, which implies a partial or total deficit of mobility in half of the body (hemiparesis or hemiplegia) on the side opposite to the affected artery, in the renal territory it causes arterial hypertension that is difficult to control with medications and in the lower limbs the so-called intermittent claudication, which is pain in the calves or buttocks during walking, which frequently forces the patient to stop.
What symptoms does atherosclerosis cause in the various organs?
In heart disease, the obstructions of the coronary arteries caused by atherosclerosis generally cause a symptom called angina pectoris or angor pectoris, which in general is oppressive, such as a weight in the middle of the chest, and which can sometimes run or radiating to the arms, back, neck, jaw, or mouth.
This pain is usually triggered by exertion and disappears quickly with the patient’s rest. It can also be caused by nerves, cold, sexual intercourse, after large meals, at night when lying in bed with cold sheets, etc. Its intensity is variable and generally lasts a few minutes. It can also be accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath, or dizziness.
In cases of heart attack or acute symptoms, the pain can be very strong and prolonged, without being relieved with medications. As a patient, you should not evaluate yourself whether or not a chest pain may or may not correspond to a heart condition, but rather you should immediately consult a doctor so that he can evaluate the origin and severity of the symptoms.
Blockages of the arteries of the brain can cause symptoms of different kinds. One of them is the temporary loss of vision in one eye, called ¨amaurosis fugax¨ (fleeting blindness), caused by a small fat embolism from a carotid obstruction.
There may also be partial or total difficulty in mobilizing the arm and leg on the same side, and this symptom may be temporary or permanent. When it is permanent it is called cerebrovascular accident or CVA, and when it is transitory “transient ischemic attack” or TIA.
Other symptoms can be syncope, dizziness, unsteadiness when walking, etc.
The obstructions of the arteries of the lower limbs cause what is called “intermittent claudication”, which consists of pain in the calves or in the gluteal area that forces us to stop, since the symptom is triggered while the patient is walking.
Initially the pain can be felt when walking between 500 or 1,000 meters, but as the disease becomes more severe, the number of blocks that the patient can walk without pain is gradually reduced. When the pain appears at 100 meters or less, it is considered that some type of intervention should be carried out to solve the problem (angioplasty or surgery). In the most severe stages, sores or ulcers can be seen on the feet that do not heal due to lack of irrigation.