Our lives depend on our heart continuing to beat roughly 100,000 times a day. We all know it’s important to take care of our hearts. Unfortunately, coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of premature death in the Western World and a key element of CHD is the build-up of fatty plaques inside arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. This is also the leading cause of stroke.
Atherosclerosis can be somewhat prevented through the obvious means; a healthy diet, regular exercise and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption or smoking. However, like with many conditions, the occurrence of atherosclerosis is closely linked to factors we cannot control, such as age and genetics. You could be doing everything right and still be at risk. Therefore, it is wise to attend a heart screening which will flag up atherosclerosis before it contributes to a fatal event like a heart attack or stroke.
In this post we will discuss everything you need to know about atherosclerosis and where to attend a heart screening in London.
What Is Atherosclerosis?
What is atherosclerosis? It occurs when cholesterol, fatty acids, and calcium deposits build up on the inside of artery walls, known as the endothelium. Over time this ‘furring up’ of the fatty deposits, or plaque, accumulate to such an extent that they constrict blood flow through them. This is known as stenosis and causes symptoms of angina – typically chest pain on exercise. Alternatively, these plaques can rupture and expose an irregular surface upon which a blood clots forms and causes complete blockage of the artery leading to a heart attack.
Usually we only see our doctor once we experience symptoms, by which point it the condition has progressed and treatment options are more limited, or once a heart attack is occurring. Sadly, many patients suffering a heart attack die. This is why a heart screening in London at Echelon Health will detect atherosclerosis before it even causes symptoms. With an early diagnosis, it is possible to stop it in its tracks before it worsens.
What Are The Health Risks Of Atherosclerosis?
- Angina – typified by pain or discomfort in the chest due to the coronary arteries, which supply the heart, becoming narrowed or blocked due to atherosclerosis.
- Heart Attack: if atherosclerosis leads to a blocked coronary artery, or if some atherosclerotic plaque breaks off and causes a clot here, this will stop blood flow to the heart and thus the heart muscle will starve of oxygen and induce a heart attack. .
- Peripheral Arterial Disease: when atherosclerotic plaque accumulates in the arteries that supply peripheral parts of the body such as the legs, arms or skin, the blood flow to these tissues will be restricted and this is known as ‘intermittent claudication’. Cramping and discolouration are common symptoms, however if the plaque breaks off and finds its way into a vein in the leg, for example, it could cause a blood clot and a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Circulation Foundation explain intermittent claudication in detail.
- Stroke: atherosclerosis can affect the carotid arteries which supply the brain. This could lead to a stroke. Evidently, atherosclerosis is a common component of a range of heart and circulatory diseases. Often you won’t know you have a problem until it is too late. Therefore, we recommend attending a heart screening in London for a preventative assessment.
Risk factors for Atherosclerosis?
- Age – People over the age of 60 are particularly susceptible to the disease.
- Red meat – long believed to be a culprit of heart disease, recent research has found that there may not be a direct causal link between diets high in trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) from red meat and atherosclerosis, as explained by the Heart Research Institute.
- Smoking – nicotine causes heart rate and blood pressure to increase, putting strain on vessel walls, weakening them. It also increases the risk of blood clots and encourages atherosclerosis. Therefore, smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Find out more about the benefits of quitting smoking.
- Obesity – excess fat may build up on the heart itself, known as epicardial adipose tissue (EAT) and will directly contribute to atherosclerosis as well as trigger inflammation and increase blood pressure and blood glucose, which is also harmful to artery walls.
- Genetics – inherited conditions may contribute to your risk, including a tendency towards high cholesterol
- Health conditions – the most relevant examples are type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and having high cholesterol levels.
- Ethnic grouping – in the UK, people with a South Asian or African background have a statistically higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis. Although based in the US, Harvard Health have an interesting article on ethnicity and heart disease risk.
Some of these factors can be ruled out through living a healthy lifestyle, but as there are clear genetic and age-related risks factors for atherosclerosis, it is certainly wise to consider a heart screening in London for atherosclerosis.
Heart screening in London
If atherosclerosis is identified you will either be encouraged to adopt a healthier lifestyle or medical interventions will be considered, these may include cholesterol-lowering medications or the insertion of a stent or bypass surgery. However, in order to benefit from these interventions atherosclerosis must be identified in time. This is why a preventative heart screening in London is recommended, such as the Healthy Heart Assessment at Echelon Health.
This assessment is very comprehensive and involves a CT Heart, CT Coronary Angiogram, ECG, ultrasound of the neck arteries and blood tests for over 40 parameters. Each assessment is tailored to you as an individual as your detailed medical history and lifestyle will be reviewed by a leading consultant. You will benefit from our state-of-the-art equipment that offers very high resolution images which enable an extremely accurate assessment of the earliest signs of CHD and atherosclerosis. If anything worrisome is detected, we will refer you to a leading specialist consultant in the relevant field, or the NHS if you’d prefer.
In recent years Echelon Health treated 275 senior employees from the same high profile company. For their Coronary Artery Calcium scores (a measure of the overall extent of furring up), 6.5% of the group had a score >400 which in some studies equates to a >20 fold increased risk of a heart attack. None of these employees showed any symptoms. Worse still, CT Angiogram images of their arteries showed that:
- 3% had vulnerable ‘soft’ plaque only – this is the notorious ‘widow maker’ lesion and the one most likely to cause sudden death
- 4% had ‘soft’ plaques causing >50% stenosis (narrowing) and are the group most vulnerable to sudden death
View our case studies.
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