Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to heart and other parts of your body.
Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs and other parts of your body.
Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke, or even death.
Atherosclerosis usually doesn't cause signs and symptoms until it severely narrows or totally blocks an artery. Many people don't know they have the disease until they have a medical emergency, such as heart attack or stroke.
Some people may have signs and symptoms of the disease. Signs and symptoms will depend on which arteries are affected.
The coronary arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to heart. If plaque narrows or blocks these arteries (a disease called coronary heart disease, or CHD), it may lead to angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood.
Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in chest. Pain may also be felt in shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. Angina pain may even feel like indigestion. The pain tends to get worse with activity and go away with rest. Emotional stress also can trigger the pain.
Other symptoms of CHD are shortness of breath and arrhythmias Arrhythmias are problems with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat.
Plaque also can form in the heart's smallest arteries. This disease is called coronary microvascular disease (MVD). Symptoms of coronary MVD include angina, shortness of breath, sleep problems, fatigue (tiredness), and lack of energy.
The carotid arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to brain. If plaque narrows or blocks these arteries (a disease called carotid artery disease), one may have symptoms of stroke. These symptoms may include:
· Sudden weakness
· Paralysis (an inability to move) or numbness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body
· Trouble speaking or understanding speech
· Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
· Difficulty in breathing
· Dizziness, trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination, and unexplained falls
· Loss of consciousness
· Sudden and severe headache
Plaque also can build up in the major arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the legs, arms, and pelvis (a disease called peripheral artery disease).
If these major arteries are narrowed or blocked, you may have numbness, pain, and sometimes dangerous infections.
The renal arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to kidneys. If plaque builds up in these arteries, one may develop chronic kidney disease. Over time, chronic kidney disease causes a slow loss of kidney function.
Early kidney disease often has no signs or symptoms. As the disease gets worse, it can cause tiredness, changes in how you urinate (more often or less often), loss of appetite, nausea (feeling sick to the stomach), swelling in the hands or feet, itchiness or numbness and trouble concentrating.