Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease
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What is Arteriosclerosis/Definition of Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease
Arteriosclerosis means hardening of the arteries (which are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to organs and tissues in the body). It is the general term used for a group of disorders that result in thickening and loss of elasticity or hardening of artery walls.
The most common form of arteriosclerosis is atherosclerosis, in which fat, cholesterol and other substances build up on the inner walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques or atheromas, which can restrict blood flow. As atherosclerosis is the commonest cause of arteriosclerosis, the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Arteriosclerotic heart disease (ASHD), also called coronary artery disease (CAD) or coronary heart disease (CHD), refers to arteriosclerosis of heart or coronary arteries. Arteriosclerotic heart disease can also be caused by calcium deposits (calcification) on the walls of arteries that harden them, or thickening of the artery walls due to chronic high blood pressure.
Arteriosclerosis obliterans, also known as peripheral artery disease, occurs when the legs and feet are affected, which can lead to blockage of leg arteries.
Arteriosclerosis is a progressive disease that develops gradually. There are usually no arteriosclerosis symptoms until an artery becomes so narrowed or blocked, either from accumulated deposits or from a blood clot that has snagged on a deposit, that blood supply to a tissue or organ is affected.
Arteriosclerosis symptoms therefore vary widely, ranging from none in the early stages, to high blood pressure due to narrowed arteries, muscle pain when muscles that do not get enough blood supply are exerted, and heart attack or stroke due to tissue death when the artery supplying blood to it becomes completed obstructed.
The actual arteriosclerosis symptoms experienced depend on the location of the affected arteries.
Arteriosclerosis symptoms can also arise in any other part of the body to which blood flow is affected, such as vision loss if the eye arteries are blocked, or chest pain and breathlessness if lung arteries are obstructed.
- In the case of arteriosclerotic heart disease, where heart arteries are affected, symptoms can include chest pain (angina), sweating, abnormal heart rhythms, shortness of breath, and congestive heart failure or heart attack when the supply of blood and oxygen to a heart muscle is blocked.
Any chest pains are usually felt as a tight, oppressive sensation in the middle of the chest, due to inadequate blood flow to heart muscles. They generally occur with exertion but disappear at rest.
- Where arteries supplying the brain are affected, as in the case of cerebral arteriosclerosis. Symptoms include headaches, facial pain, impaired memory, impaired speech, impaired vision, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty and stroke when blood and oxygen supply is obstructed, which can cause paralysis of part of the body.
- Early symptoms of arteriosclerosis obliterans include fatigue, aching legs and cramp-like pains in the ankles and legs. There may also be pain in the thighs and hips depending on which arteries are clogged.
Leg pain brought on by walking that is relieved by sitting is called claudication, and is due to inadequate oxygenated blood for the needs of the exercising muscle. Other symptoms of arteriosclerosis obliterans are numbness, weakness, and a heavy feeling in the legs.
Healthy arteries are elastic and flexible. However factors such as smoking or a high-fat diet can cause arteries to become thick, inelastic and stiff over time. This is the process known as arteriosclerosis that can begin as early as in childhood.
Exact arteriosclerosis causes are not known, but there appear to be a few risk factors for arteriosclerosis. Causes that contribute include :
- Family history of heart disease or high cholesterol. Arteriosclerosis in such cases can develop in childhood, worsen in the 20s, and become more severe in the 40s and 50s.
- Age. Risk of blocked or hardened arteries increases with age.
- Lack of exercise
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Certain diseases such as type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure. Calcium or fatty deposits typically form on parts of arteries that have been weakened by high blood pressure.
- High blood cholesterol levels, especially of LDL or 'bad' low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
- High intake of saturated fats. A high-fat low-fruits, vegetables and fish diet that is deficient in nutrients important to vascular health is commonly linked to arteriosclerotic heart disease.
Preventing Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease
There are a number of steps that can be taken to prevent arteriosclerosis causes or to alleviate them.
Most people know it is important to exercise, to avoid saturated fats, and to keep their LDL cholesterol level low, as it is a major contributing factor to arteriosclerotic heart disease. What is less well known is that cutting down on smoking and alcohol intake is critical too.
Certain nutrients can also help to lower LDL cholesterol levels, and so indirectly prevent arteriosclerosis. Cholesterol-reducing supplements are among the most useful dietary supplements today.
A high-fruit, vegetable and fish diet that provides the nutrients important to vascular health also helps to fight arteriosclerosis symptoms.
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