Because there is no cure for Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, it is important to look after and improve your artery health before you develop the condition. Atherosclerosis is closely linked to high blood pressure which in turn has many contributory factors. Some of these are caused by lifestyle factors which you can do something about, before it’s too late. Many people who have high blood pressure may not know it, so the first recommendation is to have your blood pressure checked out by your physician, or alternatively by using a personal electronic blood pressure tester. This is especially important if you are over 45 years of age, have a family history of high blood pressure or a contributory medical factor such as diabetes. If you find that your blood pressure is greater than 140/90 you are considered to be suffering from hypertension. There are a number of counter measures that you can take for yourself as detailed below.
1. Stop Smoking
If you are a smoker, consider giving up or drastically reducing your intake of tobacco products, with a view to eliminating them completely as soon as possible. A person who smokes cigarettes, or other forms of tobacco exposes him or herself to between two and four times the average person’s risk of developing coronary heart disease. For patients who already have heart disease, smoking is a serious additional risk factor. Cardiac patients who are smokers are twice as likely to die from a heart attack as non-smoking cardiac patients. Passive smoking, or exposure to other peoples exhaled smoke also increases the risk of developing heart disease for non-smokers.
2. Reduce your Blood Cholesterol level
You should have your blood Cholesterol level checked by your physician periodically. If you have raised levels of blood cholesterol levels because of your diet then you should reduce your intake of fatty foods, and increase the frequency of periodical monitoring of your Cholesterol levels. There are four factors that determine the blood Cholesterol level – age, gender, hereditary factors and diet. Unchecked high Cholesterol levels due to diet can damage the arteries and increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
3. Reduce your High Blood Pressure
Raised blood pressure increases the amount of work that the heart has to perform, and can cause the tissues of the circulatory system, including the arteries to become thicker and more brittle. This not only increases the risk of developing heart disease, but also increases the associated risk of stroke, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. You should work with your doctor to lower your blood pressure. This may involve taking blood pressure medication and/or other lifestyle factors.
4. Reverse your sedentary lifestyle
Caution – Before embarking on any exercise program be sure to consult with your doctor.
Leading a physically inactive lifestyle is a contributory risk factor for poor artery health and developing coronary heart disease. Regular exercise is beneficial in lowering this risk, especially if it involves moderate or greater amounts of physical exertion. The British Heart Foundation has recommended a half hour period of medium to strenuous exercise 3 times a week, to maintain heart and blood vessel health. The more vigorous the activity, within reason, the greater the benefits obtained. However, lower levels of activity can still be beneficial if they maintained in the long term. There are also side benefits associated with increased physical activity in that it can assist in reducing blood cholesterol.
5. Lose weight
Obese people have a greater risk of developing heart disease. When a person is overweight for their body’s size, their heart has to perform more work. When a person’s waist measurement is greater than the hips there is an additional increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Obesity also results in higher blood pressure and blood cholesterol.
6. Manage your diabetes carefully
This condition greatly increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, even if the blood glucose level is well managed by the patient, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. However the risks are further increased if the blood glucose level is poorly managed. So it is very important to maintain stable blood glucose levels over the long term.
7. Reduce your alcohol consumption
Drinking too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart failure and stroke. It can also increase the risk of developing cancer and other diseases. However the risk of developing heart disease has been found to be less in people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol, compared to those that drink no alcohol. The most important advice is to visit your doctor if you feel that you have identified one or more of the above risk factors to your arterial health, either in your lifestyle or heredity. Do not panic, but do not delay either, as it is rarely too late to seek help and begin a program of remedial treatment, most of which is within your control and without financial cost.
Hardening of the arteries – what is it?
The medical term for hardening of the arteries is Atherosclerosis. This is a condition where the arteries which are normally supple and elastic, become thickened by the development of fibrous tissue and the accumulation of fatty deposits. This can clearly be seen on the graphic below, where the yellow fatty deposits can be observed to be causing a reduction in the width of the artery, and corresponding reduction in blood flow.
What are the causes of Atherosclerosis?
The main causes of this degenerative disease are smoking, excessive dietary fat consumption, and excessive salt consumption. It may be further aggravated by lack of physical exercise and diabetes. There could also be additional contributory factors such as viruses, chemicals and drugs, and the gradual process of hardening of the arteries may develop over many years, and may continue undetected by the sufferer.
Excessive fat consumption
Prolonged excessive consumption of dietary fat can cause yellow fatty streaks to develop in the blood vessels caused by the deposition of fats in the wall of the artery. These deposits are yellow due to the deposited cholesterol. Fatty streaks will not cause any symptoms, but are the earliest sign of arterial disease and can progress to the development of atherosclerotic plaques. Plaques are basically thickening of the innermost layer of the arterial wall. As the plaques become larger they impede blood flow through the artery.
Smoking destroys the elasticity of the arterial walls throughout the entire body and restricts blood flow through the smaller capillaries, causing an eventual deterioration of the eyesight, hearing, prostate, and sexual function. This is due to substances known as free radicals that are contained in tobacco smoke, which are deposited in the arteries. This creates serious problems throughout the body, especially to the major life sustaining organs, due to a reduction in blood flow and lack of oxygen.
Salt destroys the elasticity of arteries and capillaries just as smoking does. The damage to the arteries is very similar to the damage caused by tobacco smoke. When arteries lack the proper elasticity, the blood has a difficult time getting into the capillaries – the small thin-walled vessels, en route to a healthy organ because efficient blood flow is dependent upon proper expansion and contraction of arteries and capillaries.
Stroke, Heart Attack and death due to Atherosclerosis
The above risks associated with Atherosclerosis, mean that it can ultimately cause a fatal or disabling stroke or a heart attack, when an artery becomes too brittle and breaks from the hardening effect that has taken place.
Can Atherosclerosis be cured?
There is currently no cure for hardening of the arteries. However some of the symptoms that are created by hardening of the arteries can treated by surgical intervention, but these generally do not affect the underlying Atherosclerotic process – rather they are mechanical methods of opening blood vessels and improving blood flow. More importantly the risk factors that lead to the development of hardening of the arteries can be addressed. Control of these risk factors is important because it can help to reduce the risk of further problems caused by hardening of the arteries.
Treatments to help reduce the effects of Atherosclerosis
It is never too late to consider improving your arterial and general heart health, and as always prevention is better than cure. The following tips will reduce your chance of developing heart disease, and if you already are suffering from atherosclerosis or another heart related condition can only do good :-
- If you smoke – consider giving up
- If you are overweight – consider losing some weight
- If you have an unhealthy diet – try eating some healthy recipes – e.g. this healthy spaghetti bolognese, lamb jalfrezi curry or chicken chow mein
- If you are physically inactive – go and see your doctor to discuss how you can start a safe exercise program
- If you drink a lot of alcohol – consider drinking less (remember a small amount of alcohol can be beneficial to your heart health