Description: Hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is the most common form of arteriosclerosis. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, atherosclerosis refers to hardening of the arteries caused by accumulation of fatty deposits (plaques) and other substances.
Persons most commonly affected: This is a common disorder, usually affecting men over 50 years old. People are at higher risk if they have a personal or family history of coronary artery disease (heart disease) or cerebrovascular disease (stroke), diabetes, smoking, hypertension (high blood pressure), or kidney disease involving hemodialysis.
Organ or part of body involved: Arteries
Symptoms and indications: These only appear when the condition is serious enough to affect blood flow. Often, symptoms affect one limb. If arteriosclerosis exists in both limbs, the intensity is usually different in each. Leg pain (intermittent claudication) occurs with exercise (such as walking), relieved with rest, numbness of the legs or feet at rest, cold legs or feet, muscle pain in the thighs, calves, or feet, loss of hair on the legs and/or feet, change of color of the legs, paleness or blueness (cyanosis), pulse, weak or absent in the limb and wallking/gait abnormalities.
Causes and risk factors: It is thought that atherosclerosis is caused by the body\'s response to damage to the artery wall from cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking. A person who has all three of these risk factors is eight times more likely to develop atherosclerosis than is a person who has none. Physical inactivity, damage by oxidants, diabetes, and obesity are also risk factors for atherosclerosis. High levels of the amino acid homocysteine and abnormal levels of fats called lipoproteins also raise the risk.
Prevention: Exercise must be balanced with rest. Walking or other activity, performed to the point of pain and alternated with rest periods, is often recommended. Over time, circulation improves because of the development of collateral (new, small) blood vessels. Stop smoking! Smoking constricts arteries, decreases the blood\'s ability to carry oxygen and increases the risk of forming clots (thrombi and emboli). Foot care is particularly important if diabetes is also present. Wear shoes that fit properly. Pay attention to any cuts, scrapes or injury -- the tissues heal slowly when there is decreased circulation and are prone to infection. Control obesity and high blood pressure.
Focus on dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce cholesterol and other problems that contribute to atherosclerosis. Dietary modifications usually incorporate eating foods that are low in saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar, and animal proteins. Foods high in fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, are encouraged. By consuming fruits and vegetables, the person also consumes helpful dietary antioxidants, such as carotenoids found in vegetable pigments, and bioflavenoids in fruit pigments. Liberal use of onions and garlic is recommended, as well as eating fish, especially cold-water fish, such as salmon. Alcohol, and coffee are to be avoided.
Stress is known to worsen blood pressure and atherosclerosis, and hasten the progression of the disease. Therapeutic relaxation techniques are, therefore, helpful adjuncts to treatment.