Heart health

Sunday 06 December 2009, 18:20

Atherosclerosis complications

What are the most common sequelae of untreated atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis complications

Although atherosclerosis is a preventable and treatable condition, when untreated or improperly treated, it may lead to serious consequences.


As a general rule, atherosclerosis complications depend upon the location of affected arterial vessels. Coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease and aneurysms are the most common complications of atherosclerosis.


Coronary artery disease (CAD) develops as the result of the narrowing and stiffening of coronary arteries, which are the major arteries supplying oxygen-rich blood to the heart. The resulting reduced blood flow to the heart muscle can lead to angina (chest pain) or to a heart attack. Over time, the reduced oxygen supply to the heart can also weaken this organ, leading to functional dysfunctions, such as arrhythmias and heart failure.


Carotid artery disease affects the vessels leading to the brain. Since the brain’s cells need a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood, transient or permanent occlusion of carotid artery or its branches can causes stroke or a transient ischemic attack.


Peripheral artery disease (PAD) develops as the result of the narrowing of the arteries of arms or, more frequently, legs. Other than potentially causing a reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli (such as harm and cold), the complete occlusion of these vessels can lead to tissue death (gangrene). If gangrene is left untreated for long periods of time, there may develop a serious systemic infection eventually leading to death.


Another possible complication of atherosclerosis is the formation of aneurysms, that can develop in any artery in the body, although large arteries (such as the aorta) are most likely affected. Aneurysms are abnormal circumferential or saccular dilations of arterial walls. They result from loss of structural integrity of the arterial wall and can develop for a long period of time without causing any symptoms. However, if untreated, aneurysms can rupture, resulting in internal bleeding, sometimes life-threatening.


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Heart health

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