Blocked arteries, hardening of the arteries, clogged arteries, and any other terminology you may use is all common language for the medical terms atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. Both mean hardening of the arteries; one just encompasses the other. Arteriosclerosis is a general term for any hardening/loss of elasticity of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries caused by a specific plaque (ie. cholesterol or triglycerides). So, atherosclerosis is a form of arteriosclerosis. All of this seems rather complicated, but the bottom line is, whichever "sclerosis" you are talking about, having either one isn't a good thing. Both cause clots to form in the arteries, build-up and fatty residue sticking to the walls as well; leading to coronary artery disease, further leading to stroke or even myocardial infarction, a heart attack. A hospital run is inevitable if you do not control this life threatening disease.
This complex, silent disease may not show itself for years, even decades. It usually begins in adolescence, remains asymptomatic, taking years to become detectable. The plaque build-up, artery damage, and ultimately the narrowing of the arteries from all these years of damage can show some signs, if the person is willing to test for it. A cardiac stress test is non-invasive and can detect blood flow limitations, which would give reason to do further testing. Some patients, once diagnosed, usually report having severe headaches and numbness, not thinking they were related to any blockage at the time.
Some causes of atherosclerosis are controllable and some are not. Some of the controllable causes are:
- Lifestyle (sedentary vs. active)
- Stress or depression
- High Cholesterol and/or Triglycerides
- High Blood Pressure (increases risk up to 60%)
- Cigarette Smoking (can increase risk up to 200%)
- Obesity (particularly central obesity, or abdominal obesity)
Some of the uncontrollable causes are:
- Advanced age
- Male sex
- Familial Link--Having a close relative that has had some complication of atherosclerosis (coronary heart disease or stroke)
So, to combat this deadly disease, your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes and/or medication. These may include eating a healthy diet, implementing some form of physical activity, and weight management.
1. In more detail, you should limit your saturated fats to less that 7% of your daily intake, and your overall fat intake should be around 25%. The fat source should come from mono- and poly-unsaturated sources, including omega-3 fatty acids. Some food sources that have omega-3's are salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Your fiber intake should be at least 25 g a day, and you should have less than 200 mg a day of cholesterol. To do this, increase your vegetable, fruit, legume and whole grain intake. You will not only increase your fiber intake, but also lower cholesterol as well. Lastly, you should limit your alcohol and sodium (salt) intake at all times. Too much alcohol raises your blood pressure and triglycerides; and too much sodium raises blood pressure as well.
2. Maintain a healthy weight by increasing exercise. Cardiovascular and strength training are a must when implementing an exercise program. Both burn calories/fat and add lean tissue. It also increases the "good" cholesterol (HDL) that will help to clean out the arteries of the plaque and fatty deposits.
3. QUIT SMOKING!! Need I say more?
4. Reduce your stress in healthy ways. Don't do it by eating, drinking or smoking. Use exercise, breathing, reading, or any other way that is relaxing to you to de-stress yourself.
In conclusion, most of the causes for atherosclerosis, or blocked arteries, are preventable. Having the knowledge and the ability to prevent a catastrophic event from ruining or ending you life is powerful. Take control of your destiny, and do something to stop this silent killer from sneaking up on you.