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Care for Arteriosclerosis at University of Colorado Hospital

In the United States, as well as in other industrialized countries, arteriosclerosis – a condition in which artery walls become thicker and less elastic – is a common ailment.

Because it's a common condition, many specialists treat it. So why come to University of Colorado Hospital?

We're a teaching hospital, and our doctors keep current with the latest treatment advances. We have some of the best outcomes in the state, and the greatest patient safety records.

 

Medical Team

Your medical team for arteriosclerosis includes:

Arteriosclerosis Specialists

  • Cardiologist – a doctor who specialize in study of the actions of the heart and its diseases.
  • Vascular surgeon – a doctor who specializes in the surgical repair of blood vessels.
  • Cardiac surgeon – a cardiologist who specializes in the surgical treatment of heart disease.
  • Interventional cardiologist – a cardiologist who specializes in the catheter-based treatment of heart disease.
  • Interventional radiologist – a doctor who specializes in minimally invasive, targeted treatments performed using imaging for guidance.

Other Arteriosclerosis Staff

  • Registered nurse – a nurse who conducts medical evaluations, takes patient histories and provides after care for patients.
  • Nurse practitioner – a registered nurse who has completed advanced education and training in the diagnosis and management of common medical conditions, including chronic illnesses.

Tests

If your doctor suspects that you have atherosclerosis, he or she may:

  • Listen to your chest for a whooshing or gurgling sound that is a sign of abnormal blood flow
  • Listen for areas of weak pulse in the leg, arm or other areas, which is a sign that not enough blood is reaching the area
  • Take blood samples to test your blood lipid (fat) levels and blood glucose (sugar) levels
  • Take your blood pressure

Depending on the results of this initial evaluation, you may also need one or more of the following tests:

Cardiac Catheterization

Helps your doctor determine the pressure on the heart and the blood vessels feeding it. The catheterization requires a small tube to be inserted through the artery in the groin and passed through to the heart. An injection of dye allows your doctor to see the pattern of blood flow to and through your heart and determine if there are blockages.

Exercise Stress Test

This test evaluates how well your heart is functioning. During the stress test, you will walk on a treadmill while a machine monitors your:

  • Heart rhythm
  • Blood pressure
  • Other vital signs

Nuclear Stress Test

An exercise stress test that includes an injection of a small amount of a radioactive material into your artery. This material helps illuminate areas that are blocked and may not be receiving a sufficient blood supply. It reaches your heart as you are exercising. Following the exercise test, you will have an X-ray of your heart.

Drug Tests

If you cannot perform an exercise stress test, your doctor may use drugs that dilate (widen) your blood vessels. After the drugs are injected into your veins, you will receive an injection of radioactive material to help show areas of blockage in the arteries.

Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram (ECHO), also known as a cardiac ultrasound, uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart.

Treatments

If you have arteriosclerosis, you may be able to manage it with medications prescribed by your doctor.

  • Anti-coagulants to break up blood clots
  • ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors reduce pressure on the blood vessels by dilating (widening) them
  • Blood pressure medicine
  • Medicines to keep blood platelets from forming on a damaged artery
  • Cholesterol-lowering medicines to help reduce the formation of plaque
  • Hypoglycemic medicines to decrease the amount of sugar in your blood

If the medications do not slow down the disease, you may need one or more of the following procedures.

Angioplasty and Stenting

Your doctor may be able to clear your carotid artery with a minimally invasive procedure, using angioplasty and a process called stenting. A very thin, flexible tube called a catheter that carries a small balloon is threaded to your artery. The balloon opens and closes, flattening the plaque against the artery walls. Your doctor then inserts a wire mesh tube called a stent into the artery. The stent keeps the artery open and allows the blood to flow freely.

Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery

Coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) may be performed if the arteries bringing blood to your heart (the coronaries) become so thick and hard with fatty deposits called plaque that blood flow is blocked. The blockage creates a risk of heart attack and death. CABG surgery involves grafting a healthy blood vessel to the heart to reroute the blood around the blockage.

Leg Artery Bypass Graft Surgery

Arteriosclerosis can restrict or cut off the blood supply to the legs, which can cause severe pain when you walk. It also causes gangrene (death of tissue) if the supply is cut off completely. To treat this, your surgeon may use a graft to reroute blood around the blockage.

Endarterectomy

If the blockage in your artery is severe, you may be referred for surgery to clean out the plaque that is causing the problem. The surgeon:

  • Makes an incision
  • Locates the blockage
  • Places a tube called a shunt to redirect the blood flow
  • Removes the plaque with a special tool that shaves off the plaque

Once the artery is clean, the surgeon removes the shunt and closes the incision.

Patient Education

Living With Arteriosclerosis

You can make lifestyle changes that will help you to manage arteriosclerosis or reduce your risk. These changes include:

  • Avoiding or quitting smoking
  • Managing your weight
  • Following a doctor-approved exercise plan
  • Modifying your diet by restricting intake of salt and fat and increasing intake of fiber
  • Regularly taking prescribed medications to control blood pressure and/or diabetes and lower cholesterol
  • Reducing stress

Getting a Second Opinion about Arteriosclerosis

The doctors and staff of University of Colorado Hospital are happy to provide second opinions for patients who have symptoms of or a diagnosis of Arteriosclerosis.

Additional Arteriosclerosis Resources

 

Heart examination

Arteriosclerosis at a Glance

Arteriosclerosis (sometimes called atherosclerosis) makes it difficult for the arteries to carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Diseases caused by arteriosclerosis, including heart failure (cardiomyopathy) and heart attacks (myocardial infraction) are among the most common causes of illness and death in the United States.

Arteriosclerosis often does not produce symptoms until an artery is extremely narrow or if the blood flow is completely blocked.

If you have risk factors, you need to manage your health and to have your doctor check your heart regularly. Risk factors include:

  • Family history of heart disease.
  • Age (over 45 for men; over 55 for women)
  • Smoking
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Diabetes (excess sugar in the blood)
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet and lack of exercise

 

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