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An Overview of Aortic Atherosclerosis

written by: brandieewine • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/26/2011

This article discusses the serious and potentially deadly condition aortic atherosclerosis. Several causes of this condition are discussed as well as information concerning treatments and complications related to this illness.

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    Aortic atherosclerosis is a disease that affects the main artery that is responsible for distributing blood from the left ventricle of the heart to all of the other arteries, with the exception of the the lungs. Aortic atherosclerosis is caused by hardened plaques of cholesterol and fat materials that form on the inside of the border of the aorta. These plaques literally cause the aorta to become hardened. When left untreated, it will result in blocked arteries which can restrict blood flow to the body.

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    French Study of Aortic Plaques

    "The French Study of Aortic Plaques in Stroke Group" which was conducted in 1996 and published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that atherosclerotic plaques greater than four millimeters were a strong indicator of a potential brain infarction, peripheral embolism, myocardial infarction and in some cases even death. The study was conducted over a period of two to four years. During these years, 331 individuals over 60 years old who had been repeatedly seen in the hospital due to a brain infarction were evaluated. Each patient received transesophageal echocardiography in order to determine if aortic atherosclerotic plaques were present. The result was an undeniable relation between the amount of plaque found in the artery and other complications.

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    Risk Factors

    Several factors have been identified as potential causes of aortic atherosclerosis. Risk factors such as genetics and diabetes cannot be controlled. On the other hand there are several risk factors that can be reduced through simple lifestyle modification. Diets that are high in unhealthy fats, cholesterol and other unhealthy foods are directly linked to aortic atherosclerosis. When individuals reduce high saturated fats and cholesterol and increase green leafy vegetables and other nutrients, the risk of aortic atherosclerosis is greatly reduced. Air quality is also a factor that can potentially cause this condition. Habits such as smoking can greatly decrease the quality of the air and therefore increase the risk. Sedentary lifestyles can result in weight gain and muscle loss and also greatly increase the risk. This risk is reduced by incorporating regular exercise into the lifestyle.

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    Symptoms

    Atherosclerosis is often undetected prior to plaque accumulation. Stable angina is one symptom of aortic atherosclerosis. The National Center for Biotechnology noted stable angina as a common symptom due to the fact that the plaque accumulation associated with atherosclerosis can cause arteries to narrow, which restricts the flow of blood. Stable angina is a type of chest pain that is a direct result of poor blood circulation through the arteries. Shortness of breath is an additional symptom of aortic atherosclerosis. Times Magazine noted that often heart attacks and even death are the first signs of aortic atherosclerosis for some individuals.

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    Angiography

    There are several treatments for aortic atherosclerosis. In less severe circumstances a simple lifestyle change will suffice. Angiography and stent placement is a common treatment for severe aortic atherosclerosis. During this treatment a doctor makes a small incision in the groin area and inserts a catheter into the incision. The catheter is then guided to the blocked area. A wire is inserted into the catheter to guide the catheter into the blockage. The doctor then inserts an additional catheter with a balloon on the end of the wire. The catheter is inserted into the blockage and then blown up to aid in opening the blocked artery.

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    Atherosclerosis Endarterectomy

    Atherosclerosis endarterectomy is a surgical procedure in which the surgeon cuts into the carotid artery in the neck. They then insert a catheter to ensure blood flow in the surrounding areas of the blockage. They will finally enter into the carotid artery and manually remove the plaque inside of the artery. There are risks associated with both surgeries therefore doctors usually exercise extreme discretion when determining if a surgery would be appropriate.

    Additional surgeries may be necessary to treat various complications associated with aortic atherosclerosis including coronary bypass surgery, abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, peripheral artery surgery or other heart surgeries. The best outcome is always achieved when treatment is received early.

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    References

    Cleveland Clinic "Atherosclerosis Endarterectomy" http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/endarterectomy/vs_atherosclerosis_endarterectomy.aspx

    New York Times "Atherosclerosis" http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/atherosclerosis/symptoms.html

    National Center for Biotechnology "Atherosclerosis" http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001224/

    American Heart Association "Accelerated Atherosclerosis by Placement of a Perivascular Cuff and a Cholesterol-Rich Diet in Apo*3Leiden Transgenic Mice" http://circres.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/87/3/248?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=diet+atherosclerosis&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT

    National Institutes of Health News "Air Pollution, High-Fat Diet Cause Atherosclerosis in Laboratory Mice" http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/dec2005/niehs-22.htm

    WebMD "What is atherosclerosis" http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/what-is-atherosclerosis?page=2

    National Library of Medicine "Carotid Artery Surgery" http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002951.htm

    National Library of Medicine "Atherosclerosis" http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000171.htm

    National Library of Medicine "Angioplasty and Stent Placement" http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002953.htm

    National Library of Medicine "Carotid artery surgery" http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002951.htm