Atherosclerosis is a serious arterial disease where the arteries become clogged with gummy, fatty deposits (called plaque), impeding the blood flow. It’s a gradual, progressive illness that can begin as early as childhood, manifesting anywhere in the body, but typically involving large and medium-sized arteries. When the condition worsens, atherosclerosis surgery is often the only treatment to help patients continue living a full, healthy lifestyle.
Other vascular diseases may develop as a result of atherosclerosis, including:
- Coronary heart disease
- Carotid artery disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Peripheral artery disease
If left untreated, atherosclerosis can lead to grave complications, including heart attack, stroke, or even death.
When Cecil Moberly was diagnosed with atherosclerosis, he couldn’t walk to the mailbox on his own, and needed a wheelchair to get through any airport and onto a plane. In fact, he could hardly get out of bed.
“There was constant pain,” Cecil remembers. “I couldn’t walk to the kitchen or do anything, really.”
Cecil turned to the expertise of Charles S. Thompson, M.D., F.A.C.S., and the team at Vascular Specialists of Central Florida, for an angiogram and angioplasty of his left leg. “Now I hardly have any pain at all,” says Cecil with a smile. “I was in surgery for four or five hours, and then I just went home. I was in good shape, ready to go out and eat dinner that night.”
Causes and Symptoms of Atherosclerosis
If you smoke or have smoked in the past, it will greatly increases your risk of procuring atherosclerosis; and, quitting smoking decidedly hinders its progression.
Deterioration from older age, obesity, high cholesterol levels, elevated blood pressure, increased blood sugar from diabetes, and lack of physical activity, can all contribute to impairing and weakening your arteries’ inner linings, and put you more at risk of contracting atherosclerosis.
“As plaque in the arteries thickens over time and impedes the smooth flow of blood to one’s vital organs and limbs, it can produce leg pain and problems walking. Sometimes no symptoms will be detected until the condition advances to the point where a large part of an important blood vessel gets clogged,” says Dr. Thompson. “If the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle is diminished, a heart attack can result. Reduced blood and oxygen flow to the brain can initiate a stroke.”
Treatment of Atherosclerosis
Both surgical and non-surgical options exist for the treatment of atherosclerosis. Non-surgical approaches focus on relieving symptoms and blocking any further progression of the illness, including:
- Lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking and regular exercise
- Medicine to lessen blood cholesterol
- Antiplatelet agents (aspirin) that increase blood flow
- Combatting diabetes and high blood pressure.
All of these interventions can significantly help slow the development of atherosclerosis, or even reverse one’s symptoms altogether.
Atherosclerosis surgery is done to treat more severe symptoms and involves clearing away the obstruction in the artery, thus improving blood circulation. This is done by angioplasty, which requires the insertion of a balloon catheter to expand a clogged artery. It may also be used in conjunction with the placement of a stent (a tiny mesh tubing).
During angioplasty surgery, the vascular surgeon will place a catheter encompassing a balloon into the clogged artery. This will enlarge the inside of the artery and improve blood flow. A stent may be placed inside to keep the artery open after the procedure.
“The day after I got home from surgery, I tried to walk to the mailbox,” Cecil recalls. “I got to the mailbox, and I said, ‘Well, I think I’ll just walk around the block.’ So I ended up walking all the way around the block. I haven’t done that in years.”
Cecil also appreciated the support and caring attention he received from the entire team at Vascular Specialists of Central Florida. “I went down to Orlando to have the surgery done, and the staff was so professional from the moment I walked through the door,” he says. “Throughout everything – when they performed the procedure to after surgery – everyone was so nice, they stayed right with me the whole time, from start to finish.”
Recovery and Outlook for Atherosclerosis
After atherosclerosis surgery, the site of the incision may be sore and bruising may be visible for several days following the operation. Patients may receive medication to prevent the arteries from going into spasm.
Usually, patients are able to resume walking within two to six hours following the procedure. However, movement may be restricted for several days, and the surgeon will most likely recommend avoidance of any vigorous exercise or strenuous activity for at least two to three days.
“I had no side effects whatsoever,” says Cecil. “It was just great. Anytime you go in for surgery, you think you’ll be in for a lot of pain afterwards, but I was in no pain at all. I encourage anyone to go ahead and have it done, because it’s not that bad.”
There are a number of preventative steps patients can take to keep their arteries robust and healthy, and prevent the reoccurrence of atherosclerosis, including:
- Control blood pressure and diabetes
- Stop smoking
- Eat a healthy low fat diet
- Exercise regularly
- Lose weight
With a successful vascular surgery, Cecil is extremely grateful for being able to live pain free again.
“A lot of people are scared of surgery, I know I am,” he says. “But it was well worth having it done. I used to have to get a wheelchair and have them take me to the airplane. Now I’m looking forward to walking to the airplane.”