Hardening of the arteries – what you need to know about Atherosclerosis
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