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Atherosclerosis: What it is, how it starts & how Dr. Lam can help

What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis (ath·ero·scle·ro·sis \ a-thə-rō-sklə-ˈrō-səs\) is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries that ultimately puts blood flow at risk. The condition gets a lot of bad press but with good reason. To understand atherosclerosis, it is important to understand a few basics of anatomy. So settle in and channel your high school anatomy and physiology class.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the body. They’re lined by a thin layer of cells called the endothelium. The endothelium works to keep the inside of arteries toned and smooth, which keeps blood flowing smoothly.

According to medical experts, atherosclerosis begins with damage to the endothelium caused by high blood pressure, smoking, or high cholesterol. That damage leads to the formation of plaque which ultimately leads to blocked arteries and restricted blood flow. The danger lies in the fact that it usually shows no symptoms until middle or older age.

Factors that increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis include:

  • High level of blood cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia)
  • Low level of HDL (the “good cholesterol”)
  • High levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of coronary artery disease at an early age
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity (too little regular exercise)
  • Older age
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    The most high-profile cardiovascular problem atherosclerosis can lead to is coronary artery disease (angina, chest pain, and heart attack). But the condition is also closely related to Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) and can cause a number of problems in the lower extremities. Narrowing in the arteries that supply blood flow to the legs causes poor circulation and intermittent crampy leg pain. This can cause pain when walking and poor wound healing. Severe disease may lead to amputations.

    How Can Dr. Lam Help?

    Once a blockage caused by atherosclerosis has developed, generally speaking, it is there to stay. With a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, plaques may slow or stop growing. They may even shrink slightly with aggressive atherosclerosis treatment.

    In order to restore blood flow, Dr. Lam offers many options for atherosclerosis treatment. He may perform peripheral artery bypass surgery or minimally invasive endovascular procedures, such as balloon angioplasty, stenting and atherectomy.