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Arteriosclerosis: Tests & Diagnosis

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Have you ever heard of arteriosclerosis? In this lesson, we will learn what arteriosclerosis is. We will also learn about the symptoms that may indicate you have this condition and the tests that will confirm a diagnosis of arteriosclerosis.

What is Arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis is a group of diseases that result in thick, stiff arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to every cell in your body. Your cells require nutrients and oxygen and if they do not get enough, they will be damaged and ultimately can die.

It may help to think about your kitchen sink. If you have ever had your sink fill up with dirty water because it is draining too slowly down the pipes, you can understand the impact that arteriosclerosis has on your circulatory system.

Arteriosclerosis
arteriosclerosis

Build-up within your arteries causes them to become stiff and have a decreased lumen. This means that not as much blood can be pumped through the arteries- just like your slow draining pipes. You may be wondering: how does this affect my body?

How do I know if I have Arteriosclerosis?

If you have arteriosclerosis in the coronary arteries, the ones that provide blood to your heart, you may experience chest pain when you exert yourself. The reason is when you work harder, your heart has to pump harder to get the oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle to meet the demand that is being exerted. If your pipes are narrowed, there is not enough blood getting to the heart muscle which causes the pain.

Or you may have arteriosclerosis affecting the arteries in your arms or legs. In this situation, you may experience pain in your arms or legs when doing physical activity for the same reason.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor.

Tests and Diagnosis

Your doctor will do a physical assessment that includes checking your vital signs, such as blood pressure, pulse, respirations, temperature, and oxygen saturation. He will listen to your heart with his stethoscope. The doctor may notice a weak pulse, decreased blood pressure, or abnormal heart sounds.

Based on his assessment and your symptoms, he will likely order additional tests to rule out other conditions and diagnose you with arteriosclerosis.

Basic Tests

If you are experiencing chest pain, your doctor will order blood tests to check your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Both of these increase your risk of arteriosclerosis. He will also order a stress test, which is a test performed on a treadmill. You will be connected to an electrocardiogram (EKG) or heart monitor, blood pressure machine, and oximeter. The doctor can measure your vital signs to see how the activity affects your heart.

If you are having pain in your arms or legs with activity, your doctor may order other tests. A Doppler ultrasound can measure blood pressure, speed of the blood, and any blockages from arteriosclerosis in your arteries. Performing an ankle-brachial index compares the blood pressure in your arm to the pressure in your ankles to identify any arteriosclerosis there.

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