Understanding atherosclerosis

The Dangers of Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a condition that affects the blood flow in your arteries. Although it is normally associated with the heart, it can affect any of the arteries throughout your body.

Depending on the severity and which arteries have become blocked, other complications can arise as a result of atherosclerosis. These complications can be very dangerous. Some of the most common include:

  • Peripheral artery disease: If the arteries in your arms or legs are affected by atherosclerosis, the circulation problems that result are called peripheral artery disease. The consequences of this can include decreased sensitivity to heat and cold, increased risk for burns or frostbite, and in serious cases, gangrene (death of the tissue).
  • Blindness: If your central retinal artery is blocked by atherosclerosis, an eye stroke can occur. This can mean sudden blindness in one or both eyes.
  • Coronary artery disease: If atherosclerosis is narrowing the arteries that are closer to your heart, you are at a higher risk for developing coronary artery disease. This can lead to angina (chest pain), heart attack, or even heart failure.
  • Chronic kidney disease: If atherosclerosis is slowing the flow of blood to your kidneys, chronic kidney disease can result. This can lead to renal disease or kidney failure, which would require dialysis.
  • Carotid artery disease: Carotid artery disease occurs when the arteries near your brain are narrowed by atherosclerosis. This can lead to stroke or a TIA (transient ischemic attack), which is a near-stroke that for unknown reasons spontaneously improves.
  • Aneurysms: Aneurysms are a very serious complication that can arise from atherosclerosis. Aneurysms can occur anywhere in your body and are defined as a bulge in your arterial wall. They usually produce no symptoms, making them more dangerous, because if the aneurysm were to burst, often life-threatening internal bleeding would result.
  • Erectile dysfunction: Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction. It can damage the arteries in the penis, which means the necessary amount of blood flow is unable to be delivered during sexual activity.
  • Mesenteric ischemia: This is a condition that causes belly pain after eating because necessary blood supply to the stomach after eating is being blocked by atherosclerosis.

Even though atherosclerosis is a single disease, it has the potential to cause any number of dangerous complications. So how do you lower your risk of developing atherosclerosis as well as these diseases? The answer is the same across the board; treating your risk factors for atherosclerosis will reduce the risk for all of the potential complications as well. There are a few main lifestyle changes that will significantly help lower your risk for both atherosclerosis as well as all of these diseases. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and is low in saturated fat.
  • Exercising at least three days per week.
  • Making sure your cholesterol and blood pressure stay low.
  • Not using tobacco products. 
Last Updated: April 18, 2018