Atherosclerosis does not cause signs and symptoms until it severely narrows or totally blocks an artery. The signs and symptoms of the disease caused due to atherosclerosis depend on the artery/arteries that are affected.
Atherosclerosis starts in young adults (about age of 20), but it generally does not cause symptoms until middle or old age. The build-up of plaque in the arteries occurs over many years. Most people with atherosclerosis don’t have signs and symptoms until it severely narrows or totally blocks an artery. In fact, they may not be aware that they have the disease until they have a complication such as a heart attack or stroke. The signs and symptoms of the disease caused due to atherosclerosis depend on the artery/arteries that are affected.
Coronary Arteries: If atherosclerosis affects (narrows or blocks these arteries) the arteries, the person may have angina (chest pain or discomfort) or heart attack.
Angina (or chest pain) is caused due to narrowing of the coronary arteries as it limits the flow of blood to the heart muscle. The pain may feel like a discomfort, pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain may extend to your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back.
Heart attack occurs when the blood supply to a section of heart muscle is completely blocked.
If blood flow isn’t restored promptly, the heart muscle in the region will begin to die. Depending on the size of the injury, a heart attack can lead to serious problems and even death if it is not treated promptly and appropriately.
Other symptoms that may occur in a person with affected coronary artery includes arrhythmias (abnormal alteration in rate or rhythm of the heartbeat), shortness of breath, fatigue (tiredness) and lack of energy.
Carotid Arteries: Carotid arteries take oxygen-rich blood to your brain from the heart. If they are affected by plaque build-up, the blood flow to your brain is reduced or blocked and this can cause stroke. Symptoms of a stroke include:
- Sudden weakness of a part of the body (face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body).
- Trouble in speaking or comprehending speech.
- Trouble in vision (in one or both eyes).
- Dizziness, trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination and unexplained falls.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Sudden and severe headache.
Peripheral Arteries: Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is caused due to formation of plaque in the major arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your legs, arms and pelvis. Narrowing or blockage of these arteries can cause symptoms such as numbness, pain and, sometimes, ulcers in the limbs.
Renal Arteries: These arteries take oxygen-rich blood to your kidneys. If they are affected significantly by plaque build-up, you may develop chronic kidney disease.
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