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Arteriosclerosis

(Hardening of the Arteries)

DEFINITION: A term applied to a number of pathological conditions in which there is thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the walls of arteries. This results in altered function of tissues and organs.

CAUSES: Cause is unknown. Aging, altered lipid metabolism, and other factors including gender, the environment, psychological, physiological, as well as genetic influences are thought to be important in determining an individuals chances of developing arteriosclerosis. Some risk factors include: hypertension; increased blood lipids, particularly cholesterol and triglycerides; obesity; cigarette smoking; diabetes mellitus; inability to cope with stress; family history of early-onset atherosclerosis; physical inactivity; and the male sex (at ages 35-44, the death rate for white males is 6 times that of white females).

1. Cigarette smoking
2. Lack of proper exercise
3. Emotional stress
4. Obesity
5. A diet high in saturated fatty acids
6. Heredity
7. Coffee drinking, which has recently been found to elevate blood cholesterol levels
8. Sugar - high intake of sucrose
9. Diabetes
10 Age and sex - higher cholesterol levels are found in males and older people
11 High blood pressure

SYMPTOMS: Arteriosclerosis (build-up of calcium on the inside of artery walls) and atherosclerosis (deposits of fatty substances) have about the same effect on circulation. Either condition causes strokes, coronary disease (angina), and high blood pressure. High blood pressure can also cause arteriosclerosis. Narrowing of the arteries forces blood pressure that is already high to become even higher. As the arteries become less pliable and les permeable, cell starvation results due to insufficient circulation in the cells. An individual will suffer a heart attack, also referred to as a myocardial infarction (MI) or coronary occlusion (a coronary), when one of the coronary arteries becomes completely obstructed by accumulated deposits or by a blood clot that has either formed or been snagged on the deposit. Older people are at greater risk for this kind of heart trouble. When arteriosclerosis occludes the arterial supply of blood to the brain, a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), or stroke occurs.

Arteriosclerosis obliterans occurs when the lower limbs are affected, in the early stages, the major arteries that carry blood to the legs and the feet become narrowed by fatty deposits. Then problems with aching muscles, fatigue, and cramp-like pains in the ankles and legs occur. Depending on which arteries are blocked, the pain may also be in the hips and thighs.

Leg pain brought on by walking that is promptly relieved by sitting is called claudication (lameness, limping). Additional symptoms include numbness, weakness, and a heavy feeling in the legs. These symptoms occur when the arteries are clogged with cholesterol plaque. Pain is experienced if the amount of oxygenated blood is insufficient to meet the needs of the exercising leg muscles.

TREATMENT: Regular exercise; diet low in saturated fatty acids; minimal use of tobacco; general moderation in all things to reduce or avoid stress; therapy for treatable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension if any of these are present.

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A simple test can determine how well the blood is flowing through the arteries of the legs. There are three places on the lower leg where a pulsating artery can be felt by lightly touching the skin covering the artery. One spot is the top of the foot; the second spot is the inner aspect of the ankle; and the third spot is behind the knee.

Apply pressure lightly to the skin on these spots where the pulsating artery can be felt. If you cannot find a pulse, it is an indication that the artery supplying the leg is narrowed. Special studies may be needed. Consult the doctor.

Foods rich in vitamin E will help the problem. Vitamin E and vitamin C will enhance the oxygen supply in the bloodstream and in the red blood cells. It would be wise to add these supplements to the diet.

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