Atherosclerosis refers to the build-up of plaque on the coronary arteries. Presence of this dangerous condition can mean that the proper amount of blood is not reaching the heart. When this happens, a heart attack is possible.
Because this issue is so dangerous, it's important that you pay attention to any warning signs of atherosclerosis. One sign of a potential problem is having unusual chest pain during exercise or heavy physical activity. This type of chest pain is known as angina and is a red flag that you may have a blocked artery.
If your doctor determines that you have blocked arteries, you will most likely be referred to a cardiologist to discuss vascular surgery. The type of vascular surgery that addresses this condition is called an angioplasty, and there are several variations available.
A balloon angioplasty involves the use of a catheter that has a small, ballooned tip at its end. Once the surgeon places that tip at the appropriate spot within the artery, the balloon is inflated to create open space in the blocked area. The artery is essentially stretched open to allow adequate blood flow to the heart.
A variation of this vascular surgery introduces the use of a stent, which is a small piece of metal mesh tubing. In these surgeries, a catheter is used to insert the stent into the troubled artery. Again, the balloon tip is inflated, which allows the stent to gently expand. That stent acts as a support system for the artery and holds it open at an ideal size so that blood can flow correctly. The stent stays there after the balloon and surgical equipment are removed. Within several weeks the artery heals itself around the stent. Patients who are at a high risk of recurrence may have a special kind of metal tubing implanted that contains prescription medications.
During a rotablation version of the procedure, a catheter with an acorn-shaped tip is used. The diamond-coated tip spins around at a high speed and removes plaque build-up on the artery walls. The plaque is safely and naturally flushed from the site by the flowing blood and eventually filtered by the liver and spleen.
An atherectomy is another variation of an angioplasty that involves the use of a specialized catheter that has both a balloon and blades on it. Once the balloon is inflated, plaque squeezes into a window-like opening in the catheter and the blades cut away at the excess fat. Those pieces of fat and build-up that are shaved off are removed with the surgical equipment instead of being left in the body.
Atherosclerosis is a troublesome condition that affects many people, especially as they age. It's important to listen to your body for signs of problems and see a cardiologist for proactive screening when recommended by your primary care physician. While vascular surgery is a good solution for even seriously clogged arteries, it's easier to address issues earlier on before they get to more advanced stages.