About atherothrombosis

In the past few years, many little-known health-related terms have come into common usage. Today, the word to know is atherothrombosis (ATH-er-o-throm-BO-sis). It's a word that is linked to several severe diseases and one that should be on the minds of anyone over the age of 40.

Clotting
To understand atherothrombosis, you first need to understand blood and the blood clotting process. Blood runs through our veins and arteries, supplying every cell in our bodies with oxygen and nutrients. It also carries waste materials and cells that help protect our bodies from disease-causing microbes like viruses and bacteria.

When blood is lost through a cut or an injury, there is a natural process that begins to allow the blood to thicken over the area. The thickened mass is called a blood clot or simply a clot. The process of clot formation is called thrombosis. Humans need this process to survive; otherwise, we would bleed uncontrollably every time we cut ourselves.

The basics of atherothrombosis
Sometimes, for a number of reasons, blood clots may also form inside the body. For example, some people have an inherited disorder that causes their blood to "stick together" more readily than in most people, leading to blood clots. Other people have hearts that are not formed properly, allowing blood to pool of blood in the heart, raising the risk of blood clots. More commonly, people have a build-up of cholesterol deposits on the sides of blood vessels, narrowing them and slowing down the flow of blood through the blood vessels.

In the case of atherothrombosis, a blood clot forms on the walls of a blood vessel where these fatty deposits already exist. The word itself comes from atheroma, meaning a fatty deposit in the blood vessel, and thrombosis, which refers to the formation of a clot. One way to think of the damage that a blood clot can inflict is by visualizing a tunnel on the highway. An accident in the tunnel is much like the blood clot. An accident may either partially or completely block the tunnel, stopping the traffic from flowing through. In the case of atherothrombosis, the clot is the accident, blocking the flow of blood through the vein or artery.

A blood clot may:

  • completely block an artery or vein
  • partially block an artery or vein
  • break off from its place on a blood vessel wall and travel to another part of the body

If atherothrombosis causes a disruption of the blood flow in the affected artery, oxygen-rich blood is unable to reach the tissues on the other side of the clot, and the oxygen-starved cells begin to die. If the cells are heart muscle cells, the result is a heart attack; if it's brain tissue, the result is a stroke.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2021. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Understanding-Atherothrombosis

How does atherothrombosis develop?

Atherothrombosis versus atherosclerosis
The process of atherothrombosis is influenced by another process called atherosclerosis. As we age, atherosclerosis causes the inside walls of the arteries to harden and thicken, which can disrupt the flow of blood. This is often referred to as "hardening of the arteries."

It is thought that atherosclerosis is caused by damage to the inner wall of the arteries. Once the damage occurs, a build-up of cells, fat, cholesterol, and calcium may develop. This build-up is also called a plaque. If the plaque increases in size, the interior of the artery becomes narrow, disrupting the flow of blood. If the plaques rupture, a blood clot can form in the artery. If a blood clot forms on this area of the plaque, the process of atherothrombosis begins.

Without long-term protection, atherothrombosis can lead to any of the following serious and potentially fatal conditions:

  • peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
  • stroke
  • transient ischemic attack (TIA) - also called "mini-stroke"
  • heart attack - also called "myocardial infarction"

Know your risks
Knowing whether or not you are at risk gives you a fighting chance against this disease. Getting diagnosed and treating the conditions with medication, surgery, or making lifestyle changes, can greatly reduce your chances of developing atherothrombosis. Some of the most common factors that increase your risk of atherothrombotic disease (health problems caused by atherothrombosis) include:

  • aging (the risk is higher as you age)
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • family history
  • being overweight
  • little or no exercise
  • smoking cigarettes
  • too much stress
  • unhealthy eating habits
  • previous heart attack
  • previous stroke or mini-stroke
  • peripheral arterial disease

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2021. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Understanding-Atherothrombosis

Risk factors of atherothrombosis

Diseases such as stroke, transient ischemic stroke (TIA) or mini-stroke, heart attack, and peripheral arterial disease are a major cause of death and disability in Canada every year. Approximately 300,000 people are currently living with the long-term affects of stroke in Canada, while 700,000 people have a heart attack each year. All of these diseases are associated with atherothrombosis that may occur in one or several parts of the body.

Making changes
If you are at risk of atherothrombosis, your goal should be to reduce your risk as much as possible. All risk factors have an effect on your health, but some are uncontrollable - for example, you can't do much about your age or a family history.

The list below describes how the controllable factors influence your health:

  • diabetes: People with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for heart disease, which includes coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the arteries that supply the heart with blood become blocked with plaques made up of fatty deposits and other materials. Proper treatment of diabetes, including keeping blood sugars in a recommended range, can help reduce the risk of CAD and atherothrombosis.
  • high cholesterol: People with high levels of LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) have a tendency to have more plaques on the interior of blood vessels. If left untreated, this disease can lead to heart attack, stroke, or coronary artery disease. Ask your doctor about medications and other available treatments for high cholesterol.
  • obesity: Being overweight has many effects on a person's health. The cardiovascular system must work harder to pump blood through your body if you are overweight. As well, being overweight puts you at risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes, gallstones, gout, heart attack, high blood pressure, certain types of arthritis, stroke, and mini-stroke, as well as other conditions.
  • physical inactivity: A lack of regular exercise can lead to weight gain and chronic disease. The benefits of getting at least 60 minutes of regular exercise every day include stronger muscles, stronger bones, better heart and lung health, and improved flexibility.
  • smoking cigarettes: People who smoke have 2 to 3 times the risk of having a heart attack that non-smokers have and are more likely to develop artherosclerosis than non-smokers. Quitting smoking significantly improves your health no matter how old you are or how long you have been smoking.
  • stress: Removing sources of stress and learning ways to cope with stress is beneficial to your health. Research suggests that individuals under high stress levels may have a greater risk of blood clot formation. Participating in physical activity is one way to help reduce stress.
  • unhealthy eating habits: Bad eating habits such as eating food high in fat and high in sugar can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels, as well as other conditions. Make a habit of eating lower-calorie foods, including plenty of low-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables. Reduce the amount of fat and choose your carbohydrates wisely from whole-grain products.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2021. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Understanding-Atherothrombosis

Benefits of medication

Available treatments
Medication is available to help people who are at risk of atherothrombosis and related conditions (e.g. stroke, mini-stroke, heart attack, peripheral arterial disease, coronary artery disease). These medications may do one of the following:

  • act to treat an underlying condition (e.g., diabetes, high cholesterol)
  • act directly on the blood to prevent it from clotting (e.g., antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications)

Treating an underlying condition such as diabetes or high cholesterol often requires the use of medication as well as changes to diet and lifestyle. Proper treatment of conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity plays an important role in the prevention of atherothrombosis.

Two groups of medications that act directly on the blood are called antiplatelet medications and anticoagulant medications.

By increasing the time it takes for the blood to clot, anticoagulant medications can be effective in the treatment of stroke, mini-stroke, blood clots in the body, and other conditions. Warfarin is a common medication used to prevent blood from clotting.

Antiplatelet medications include acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), clopidogrel, dipyridamole, and ticlopidine. These medications slow down the activity of platelets, cells in the blood that are a part of the natural clotting process. Studies show that antiplatelet medications, taken regularly, reduce the risk of serious cardiovascular problems, including stroke, mini-stroke, and heart attacks by 25%. These drugs are sometimes used in combination with each other for added effect.

More and more research is being carried out on different antiplatelet medications. Even though ASA is the most widely used antiplatelet drug, another drug called clopidogrel has been proven through research to be modestly more effective than ASA in preventing a future stroke or mini-stroke in stroke survivors. This study also showed that clopidogrel was safer than ticlopidine and a safe alternative for people who cannot take ASA. Another study that compared the use of dipyridamole alone to aspirin alone showed there was no evidence of dipyridamole being more effective.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2021. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Understanding-Atherothrombosis