Arteries are blood vessels that lead the blood from the heart into other parts of the body. If they are healthy, their walls on the inside are smooth and elastic enough to adapt to the ultimate blood pressure changes, so the blood passes through them with no problems. However, fat deposits sometimes appear on the inner wall, most likely due to pressure, in areas where the artery branches or where the wall is slightly damaged. This fat deposit grows and damages the arterial wall more and more and, in time, it can grow into hard mass of fat tissue which damages the wall, reduces the elasticity of the artery, narrows the veins and hampers the blood circulation. Fat tissue is known as atheroma; the large mass of the atheroma is called the plate, and the name of the disorder is atherosclerosis, which literally means “hardening from the atheroma”. Atherosclerosis is an important factor that contributes to the development of arteriosclerosis.
There are almost no symptoms, until a big damage occurs. The symptoms develop, usually after many years, when a certain part of the body is not supplied with blood, and the symptoms depend on the part that is damaged. For example, you can only have cramps in your legs after physical activity, but you may also be affected by stroke, renal insufficiency, angina pectoris, or heart attack.
Atherosclerosis is common in the West. There are many cases without symptoms, so we do not have accurate figures, but in the autopsy of people injured in traffic accidents a certain level of this disorder is almost universal, especially in men. Atherosclerosis also affects children. This is because atherosclerosis is associated with high fat content and cholesterol in the bloodstream. Most people in the West eat a lot of fatty foods or foods rich in cholesterol, e.g. meat, butter and eggs, which is probably the main cause of atherosclerosis.
If you are a man at any age or a woman above 35 years, and you eat a lot of fatty foods, you are likely to get atherosclerosis. Chances of getting atherosclerosis are also big if you smoke, if you have a kidney disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. Of course, atherosclerosis is worsening with age.
Severe atherosclerosis can occur without obvious bad consequences. Many parts of the body are not supplied with blood by just a certain artery and its branches, but smaller branches of adjacent arteries; they do not have to be affected even though the main supply channel is heavily damaged. When the main artery dries out, other arteries may sometimes act as a substitute in this deficiency, they expand, and the overall blood supply is not compromised. Even for some tissues that rely on blood supply from an artery, there are no bad consequences, even though the channel is significantly narrowed, because normal blood supply usually exceeds the actual need.
Therefore, atherosclerotic damage may be small for years, maybe even none. However, it is very likely that, due to the narrowing of the arteries, a part of the body which depends on that artery or one of its branches will lose the blood supply. If this occurs in coronary arteries that supply the heart, there is a risk of angina pectoris or heart attack. If cerebral arteries are affected (those that supply the brain), a stroke may occur. Kidney damage is also possible, which leads to kidney (renal) insufficiency or dry gangrene in the hand or leg.
What to do?
Do not wait for the symptoms to develop. Symptoms are a sign of the consequences, and unpleasant consequences occur as the disease has progressed for years. Assume now that you and your children are in danger and that danger may be greater if one of your close relatives has a heart condition or had a stroke. You have to take the self-help measures that we recommend below. They will help you to prevent or slow the development of atherosclerosis.
Scientific research suggests that the fat strips on the inner arterial walls may disappear, but nothing can be done when a plate has already been created. After a certain time in developing atherosclerosis, thorough treatment may still reduce the chance of stroke, but this disorder can progress to the stage when nothing can prevent heart attack. This does not mean that you need to ask a doctor to make a search immediately to find out if you already have atherosclerosis. Such searches are complex and costly, and self-help measures should satisfy almost everyone.
However, contact your doctor if there is someone with a heart or blood flow disorder in your family if you know that one of your closest relatives has high blood fat content or if you have a diabetic condition. If so, then it is justified to consider the possibility of diagnostic tests to determine drug therapy.
Doctors will tell you to perform a blood cholesterol search (before it, you can not eat for a few hours). You will need to control the blood pressure, but other tests may also be needed, e.g. X-rays of the chest to determine the size of the heart or for the detection of calcium deposits in places where doctor suspects the atherosclerosis can be, followed by an electrocardiogram (EKG) and an arteriogram.
Self-help: since the development of atherosclerosis is associated with the content of cholesterol in the blood, reduce the amount of animal fat and other saturated (milk) fat. Eat poultry and fish instead of pork, beef and lamb. Remove the fat from the meat and rather bake it on a griddle than fry it. Since one egg fills almost the entire daily cholesterol, limit the ammount of eggs to 3 per week. Avoid creams and sweets; use margarine, which has a high content of polyunsaturated fat, instead of butter; eat more fruits and vegetables; use edible oil with the label “high content of polyunsaturated fat”, e.g. seed and sunflower oil, not oil with the “vegetable oil” label without further explanation.
There is no clear link between obesity or smoking and atherosclerosis. However, obese people, as well as heavy smokers, are known to be particularly sensitive to most of the disorders caused by atherosclerosis. So, be sensible. Stop smoking, even if you are not obese, because ythere is a risk of lung cancer. If you are obese, follow a weight loss diet that will release excess fat.
Finally, you shouzld be regularly engaged in physical activities. Moderate physical activity can prevent the development of atherosclerosis and reduce the possibility of its severe consequences. But, do not overdo it. Consult your doctor if you think that your physical activity may harm you.
Professional help: your doctor will help you control your blood pressure and heal you of hypertension, if necessary. If you have an abnormally high blood cholesterol content, your doctor will prescribe a medication that will lower you if you take it regularly (although some of these may cause side effects, e.g. a slight increase in the risk of gallbladder disease).