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Vascular inflammation is a potentially serious medical condition characterized by the buildup of atheroma plaque within the body's arterial walls. Commonly referred to as atherosclerosis, this inflammation is a progressive condition that develops with a variety of contributing factors that may be genetic, behavioral or dietary in origin. Treatment for this manageable condition often includes lifestyle changes coupled with prescription medication to stabilize one’s condition and prevent the further accumulation of arterial plaque.
Atherosclerosis is characterized by the buildup of atheroma plaque within the body's arteries. Atheroma is a fatty substance that lines weakened arterial walls where damage has occurred. In an effort to heal itself, blood platelets will generally gather in these weakened areas, sticking to the fatty plaque. Though arterial tissue may be reinforced and strengthened by the platelet and plaque accumulation, overall arterial function becomes jeopardized.
In the presence of vascular inflammation, arterial passages narrow and blood flow becomes restricted, compromising the health of surrounding tissues and organs that do not receive the nutrients that oxygenated blood delivers. Not only is circulation compromised by the arterial narrowing, but pieces of arterial plaque may break loose and enter the bloodstream. Once plaque enters the bloodstream it may travel to other parts of the body, such as the brain or heart, accumulating additional platelets along the way that contribute to blood clot formation. A blood clot not only impairs circulation and arterial function, but can increase one’s risk for organ damage or failure, heart attack and stroke.
There are several factors that may contribute to the onset and progression of vascular inflammation. In the absence of a definitive, known cause, behavioral factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and lethargy may create the ideal conditions that promote arterial plaque accumulation. Individuals with hypertension or high cholesterol are considered to possess an increased risk for developing vascular inflammation.
Often affecting major arteries throughout the body, symptoms associated with this condition may vary in severity and, depending on the individual, may occur in localized areas. Those with mild to moderate arterial narrowing may remain asymptomatic, meaning they experience no symptoms at all, until a blockage forms that compromises circulation or organ function. Depending on the location of the inflammation, individuals may experience numbness, weakness, or pain. Other signs may include compromised neurological and motor function and a loss of muscle function or coordination.
Reduced blood pressure due to arterial narrowing will generally present with a weakened pulse in the affected area. During a physical examination, a doctor may discover additional signs with a stethoscope that may include the presence of an aneurysm or bruit. The discovery of any signs indicative of compromised blood flow will usually prompt a battery of additional tests.
Depending on the affected area, a series of imaging tests, including a computerized tomography (CT) scan and ultrasound, may be ordered. Blood tests may be administered to evaluate cholesterol and blood glucose levels, as well as to check for indications of infection or disease. If vascular inflammation is affecting cardiovascular function, a stress test, angiogram and electrocardiogram (ECG) may be performed to assess the electrical conductivity and overall condition and functionality of the heart muscle.
Lifestyle changes, including smoking cessation and the adoption of an appropriate exercise regimen to promote weight loss, are generally recommended for individuals with vascular inflammation. The implementation of a healthy diet is also suggested to help lower one’s cholesterol and reduce atheroma accumulation. Medications may also be prescribed to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, inhibit blood clotting and reduce fluid retention. Severe arterial blockages may necessitate surgery to alleviate plaque accumulation, through either stent placement or arterial bypass to restore proper blood flow.