Atherosclerosis is the build up of plaque (cholesterol), cells, and other debris in the arteries. The plaque becomes large enough that the vessels become hard and blood cannot flow as easily as it should. “Symptom” becomes a rather vague term when dealing with this, as it could apply in different ways.
Serious Dangers of Atherosclerosis
As the plaque builds up, it can eventually burst, causing blood clots. Blood clots are generally a good thing, like when you slice your hand open and the blood platelets start stick together so you eventually stop bleeding. This, however, is on the surface of the skin or outside the vessels, and the as blood flow carries on and the wound heals, the clot is dismantled—a variety of chemical processes occur to both form and unform the clot.
However, when the plaque ruptures inside the vessels, those chemical reactions still occur—except the clot clogging up the vein becomes a danger, rather than a healing factor. It can occur in any vessel in any part of the body, causing a variety of diseases and problems, which could be considered “symptoms” of the origin disease of atherosclerosis.
Cerebrovascular disease occurs when the clot happens in the brain, causing a stroke, while coronary artery disease is a heart attack, a result of plaques bursting in the heart. In the legs, often as a result of a sedentary lifestyle, peripheral artery disease may occur, as the plaque clogs up the veins and makes it difficult for the blood to move around, causing pain and wounds that don’t heal as they should.
Early Indicators of Atherosclerosis
Symptom in its traditional usage is still present in atherosclerosis—but rarely, and often not until it is an extremely severe case. Since the plaques and subsequent rupture form and occur anywhere in the body, the symptoms you might expect will be dependent upon exactly where the rupture happens. Warning signs that a stroke may be forthcoming (called a transient ischemic attack) include weak or numb limbs, trouble speaking clearly, and facial muscles that droop. Angina is the precursor to a heart attack, and presents as pressure and even pain in the chest.
Developing kidney failure or high blood pressure can be an indicator of atherosclerosis in the arteries that bring oxygen and nutrients to the kidneys. It may even be present in the genital region, causing painful intercourse for women and difficulty achieving an erection for men. Since time is a serious contributor to the formation of plaque (it is rarely a problem before middle age at the earliest), perhaps atherosclerosis is responsible for the rumor that sex becomes more difficult and less fun with age.
If you notice any of these symptoms before they become their more serious counterparts, it is of paramount importance to speak with a doctor, so you can begin a treatment plan before it’s too late.