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Atherosclerosis The Silent Killer

Have you heard about the silent killer called Atherosclerosis? It may be familiar to some and completely strange to others. Nonetheless, I’ll be shedding some light on what it is and why it is termed ‘The Silent Killer’.

Atherosclerosis is a health condition caused by the narrowing of the arteries as a result of plaque build-up in the inner lining of the arteries. It is also known as hardening of the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood and nutrients from the heart to the other parts of the body. This condition develops gradually, usually having no obvious symptoms in the early/initial stage. As one gets older, fat and cholesterol tend to accumulate in the arteries, thus causing the formation of plaque. The accumulation of plaque along the lining of the arteries makes it difficult for blood to flow freely through the arteries.  Usually, the atherosclerosis symptoms do not arise until an artery is so narrowed or clogged that it can’t supply adequate blood containing oxygen and nutrients to the body organs and tissues. Atherosclerosis can occur in any artery in the human body. The plaque formed can break off in bits and cause blood clot and if left untreated, it can lead to heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.


The cause of atherosclerosis is not exactly known but it may start as an injury to the inner lining of the arteries or clogging of the arteries as a result of:

  • High cholesterol food intake
  • High triglyceride present in the blood
  • Smoking
  • Obesity (Fat mass)
  • Diabetes/Insulin resistance
  • Inflammation due to diseases like infections, arthritis, lupus e.t.c.
  • Once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, blood cells and other substances often clump at the injury site and build up in the inner lining of the artery.

With time, fatty deposits (plaques) made of cholesterol and other cellular products may build up at the injury site and cause hardening and narrowing of the arteries. When the body organs and tissues linked to the blocked arteries do not receive enough blood to function properly, other health issues then arise.



Symptoms may be presented as:

  • Chest pain
  • Leg or arm pain, depending on the area of the clogged artery
  • Fatigue
  • Discomfort and shortness of breath
  • Fainting spells
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination and Confusion
  • Myalgia (muscle weakness)

Risk Factors

A number of factors place people at risk of atherosclerosis and they include:

  • Family history: If atherosclerosis runs in a family, there are more likely chances of the off-springs being at risk. This condition and other heart-related issues may be inherited.
  • Age: The older one gets, the more risk for atherosclerosis experienced.
  • Lack of physical activity: Lack of physical activities such as daily exercises can increase the risk of atherosclerosis. It is advisable to exercise often as it encourages good circulation of blood and oxygen in the body.
  • Smoking: Smoking causes the tightening and damage of blood vessels as well as preventing the adequate flow of oxygen to the various parts of the body
  • Unhealthy diet: Diets rich in fats and bad cholesterol (LDL) pose a big risk factor for atherosclerosis as these bad cholesterol clog the arteries in the body
  • Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance may give rise to diabetes and people with diabetes are more prone to artery diseases.
  • Presence of an underlying ailment such as diabetes and hypertension


Atherosclerosis can be managed by carrying out lifestyle changes such as:

  • A healthier diet low in saturated fat and bad cholesterol (LDL)
  • Doing away with fatty foods
  • Exercising daily to burn off excess calories and fat
  • Quitting smoking
  • Enrolling for a weight loss therapy (for overweight or obese individuals)
  • Treating other health conditions that may be associated to atherosclerosis
  • Carrying out routine health checks

These can help to prevent and treat atherosclerosis but if severe, then one’s doctor may recommend surgery. Nevertheless, lifestyle changes are usually the first line of treatment.

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