What Is Atherosclerosis and Do You Have It?

March 20, 2017

Many people don’t know they have atherosclerosis, but it’s something they need to check out, according to a board-certified nurse practitioner at Mercy Clinic Cardiology in Carthage and Joplin.

Atherosclerosis, sometimes called “hardening of the arteries,” occurs when fat (cholesterol), calcium and other substances found in blood build up inside the lining of the artery wall, forming a substance called plaque. Over time, this plaque decreases oxygen-enriched blood from adequately getting to organs and other parts of the body. If someone has atherosclerosis in one artery, there is a good chance it’s in other arteries throughout the body.

“I have conversations all the time with patients on what atherosclerosis is and how it develops,” said Brenda M. Cupp, who also has a doctor of nursing practice degree.

Atherosclerosis is a slow process that can begin as early as childhood and accelerate as we age. Factors that accelerate the progression of this disease are smoking, high amounts of fats and cholesterol in the blood, high blood pressure, and conditions such as diabetes and/or insulin resistance. Genetics or family history also can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.

“People need to be more concerned because diseases can develop when atherosclerosis begins to accumulate along the walls of the arteries. We can find problems in areas such as in the heart, brain, arms, legs, pelvis and kidneys,” Dr. Cupp said.

Atherosclerosis-related diseases can result in heart attack, arrhythmias, heart failure, heart valve problems, abdominal aortic aneurysm, leg and arm compromise, and stroke.

Oftentimes, Dr. Cupp said, “I have seen symptoms first lead patients to a podiatrist because of problems with their feet, to their primary care physician because they are having pain or numbness in their legs or arms, or to a wound care specialist due to a poor-healing wound. These symptoms are concerning for peripheral vascular disease from the development of atherosclerosis. If you’re not getting good oxygenated blood to the muscles, these areas will let you know.”

Some people think they have pain and can’t walk as far as they used to simply because they’re getting older or have gained weight. Little do they realize it can be a symptom of something much more serious, according to Dr. Cupp.

A major part of treating atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease involves lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating heart-healthy foods, being active and staying at a healthy weight. Treatment can include medicines to help reduce high cholesterol, control high blood pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as manage other things that increase a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke and other complications.

Brenda M. Cupp is a board-certified family nurse practitioner with a doctorate in nursing practice. Additionally, she is a board-certified medical-surgical registered nurse. Dr. Cupp is an advanced practice registered nurse in Missouri and Kansas. Mercy Clinic Cardiology – Carthage is at Mercy Hospital Carthage on the McCune-Brooks Campus, 3125 Dr. Russell Smith Way. The phone number is 417-451-2227 or 417-781-5387. Mercy Clinic Cardiology Joplin is on the Mercy Hospital Joplin campus, 100 Mercy Way, Suite 330. The phone number is 417-781-5387.