Arteriosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a pathological narrowing of the arteries that can lead to circulatory disorders and heart disease. Find out more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of atherosclerosis here.

Medical professionals describe pathological (degenerative) narrowing of the arteries as arteriosclerosis. A similar term is or atherosclerosis. He basically means the same thing. But there is a small difference: medical professionals refer to the deposits of plaques in the blood vessels as or atherosclerosis. In colloquial language, arteriosclerosis and/or atherosclerosis are often referred to as hardening of the arteries or hardening of the arteries.

Atherosclerosis: plaques in the inner wall of the blood vessels

Healthy arteries are elastic and muscular and can adapt to different blood pressure situations. The arteries (excluding the pulmonary arteries) carry fresh, oxygen-rich blood from the heart throughout the body. In arteriosclerosis, substances dissolved in the blood (initially cholesterol, for example) are deposited in the inner wall of the blood vessels. In the further course, other substances such as calcium also accumulate at these points – so-called plaques are formed. These deposits change the inner wall of the vessel. It becomes rigid and swells. This narrows the vascular opening. The result is circulatory disorders in the areas that are supplied by the affected artery. A particular danger of atherosclerosis is that narrowed vessels can more easily be closed by a blood clot. The consequences of this are, for example, heart attacks or strokes. Men suffer from circulatory disorders more often than women.

Frequency

Atherosclerosis is a so-called widespread disease because it is particularly common. With increasing age, almost everyone is affected by a pathological narrowing of the arteries. The number of deaths caused by atherosclerosis in Germany is around 360,000 per year. At the same time, the hardening of the arteries is the most common cause of serious secondary diseases such as heart attacks or strokes.

Symptoms

The symptoms of atherosclerosis, once they become noticeable, are usually severe. The symptoms depend on where the arteries are narrowed.

Circulatory disorders in the legs

Circulatory disorders in the legs lead to so-called peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD), the 2nd stage of which is known as intermittent claudication. The legs hurt at first when walking, later also when resting. The disease got its name because patients repeatedly take breaks while walking and look in shop windows, for example.

Another circulatory disorder in the legs is the so-called smoker’s leg. In the smoker’s leg, the tissue on the toes, ankles, and legs slowly dies off because the narrowed arteries do not provide enough oxygen. Amputation may be necessary under certain circumstances.

Angina and heart attack

A narrowing of the coronary arteries leads to angina pectoris, and if one of the arteries is completely blocked, it leads to a heart attack. These heart problems are among the most feared complications of arteriosclerosis. This also applies to strokes, which are often caused by a vascular blockage in the brain.

Arteriosclerosis

Stroke due to atherosclerosis

Circulatory disorders in the brain lead to declining brain functions such as memory disorders, dizziness, or confusion. Depending on which brain region is affected, other failure symptoms can also occur in other parts of the body. Examples of this are numbness in the arms or legs or impaired vision. If the vascular narrowing is very severe or if a brain vessel bursts, a stroke occurs.

Causes

Unfortunately, it cannot be glossed over: the majority of the causes of arteriosclerosis are our own responsibility. Because the risk is primarily shaped by individual behavior. The following risk factors promote the development of arterial constrictions:

    • Blood fat levels (cholesterol and other fats) are too high because fats are deposited in the blood vessels, and high LDL concentrations in particular increase plaque formation
    • High blood pressure, because the blood vessels are exposed to greater pressure and wear out faster
    • Obesity because is often linked to high blood pressure or high cholesterol
    • Smoking, as nicotine narrows blood vessels and reduces blood flow
    • Stress (which in turn can cause high blood pressure)
    • Diabetes, as blood lipids are increasingly “saccharified” and are more heavily deposited in the blood vessel walls
    • Age, because the risk of arteriosclerosis increases significantly with age
    • Lack of exercise because it promotes obesity and does not train the vascular system
    • Genetic predisposition: Genes seem to play a role as a disease risk in arteriosclerosis.

Examination

For a more precise diagnosis of a narrowing of the arteries, your doctor will first use special examination methods to determine the location and extent of the narrowing of the arteries. This diagnosis of arteriosclerosis can turn out to be quite complex if, for example, the condition of arteries has to be assessed by a catheter examination.

Treatment

For the drug therapy of arteriosclerosis, your doctor can use a whole range of active substances that relieve the blood circulation and the arteries in different ways. These are, for example, drugs that stimulate blood circulation, lower blood pressure, or thin the blood. Medicines are also available to treat high cholesterol or high levels of blood lipids. In addition, doctors usually recommend changing your diet and getting more exercise.

Surgical Therapy Of Atherosclerosis

Surgical treatment of atherosclerosis comes into play when medication and behavior change no longer help.

Stent Stabilizes Arteries

In the not-too-advanced stages of arteriosclerosis, the doctor has the option of making the affected vessels more accessible again. For this purpose, the affected artery is stabilized with a stiffener, the so-called stent, in an operation. In order to be able to place a stent, however, the artery still has to be narrowed enough so that the surgeon can reach the narrowing with an endoscope. If this is not possible, bypass surgery usually occurs.

Bypass Surgery

In particularly severe cases of atherosclerosis, there is no choice but to have surgery to detour around the narrowed or blocked artery or to replace the narrowed artery. This is called a bypass operation.

Self Help

Self-help for atherosclerosis is particularly effective if it reduces the risk factors. Eating a low-fat diet, losing excess weight, getting more exercise, and not smoking will support treatment and reduce the severity of the course of atherosclerosis.

Over-The-Counter Drugs For Atherosclerosis

    • Taking ginkgo preparations has a positive effect on blood circulation.
    • Taking garlic supplements in sufficient doses improves the flow properties of the blood and is also said to lower the cholesterol level.
    • Preparations with omega-3 fatty acids e.g. obtained from cold-water fish, reduce the risk of deposits in the arteries. They are also said to improve the flow properties of the blood and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
    • Regular intake of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) in low doses improves blood flow. Discuss this with your doctor.

Prevention

There are a number of ways you can help prevent atherosclerosis. In any case, you should do everything possible to minimize the risk factors mentioned under arteriosclerosis. In a nutshell, the best way to help yourself is to eat a low-fat, varied, and fresh diet, exercise regularly in the fresh air (as early as 20 minutes a day), consume luxury foods such as alcohol and coffee in moderation, and refrain from smoking (For tips, see quitting smoking). The following tips will also help prevent atherosclerosis:

    • Regular monitoring of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood lipid levels.
    • If the cholesterol level is high, pay attention to a low-cholesterol diet, i.e. reduce butter, eggs and the amount of meat, especially avoid saturated fats (e.g. high-fat sausage) and trans fats (especially in fried products such as french fries or potato chips), for the diet guide with high cholesterol levels
    • Diabetics should always make sure that their sugar levels are set correctly.
    • Obese people should definitely lose weight.
    • Avoid stress and learn relaxation techniques such as autogenic training, yoga, or Jacobsen’s progressive muscle relaxation.