Arteriosclerosis is a hardening and constriction of the arteries that takes years or decades, that is, the blood vessels that carry the blood away from the heart. The narrowing of the arteries causes a reduced blood flow to organs and body parts. Despite decades of research, we still do not know exactly why arteriosclerosis develops. It is agreed that there is a predisposition for atherosclerosis and its consequences - heart attack, stroke. Also, it is known that women in their younger years have a natural protection by the female sex hormones, which decreases, however, with the onset of menopause.
Inheritance sexually dependent
In search of the gene responsible for arteriosclerosis, a researcher at the University of Leipzig made an astonishing discovery in research on two strains of mice: arteriosclerosis can only be inherited by the opposite sex. "The transmission of the gene responsible for arteriosclerosis depends on the gender of the parent generation.
If a male offspring carries this gene, the mother must first have carried this gene. Conversely, a female offspring with this gene requires a corresponding male ancestor '', so the scientist Dr. med. Teupser. "So if we want to figure out in humans how arteriosclerosis and thus heart attack or stroke can be inherited, we must pay attention to the hereditary line. ''
The beginning is creeping and unrecognized
Arteriosclerosis does not occur overnight. It can take from 20 to 40 years before the first symptoms appear, but they are already serious. These include, for example, circulatory disorders in the legs, as the narrowed arteries are poorly supplied with oxygen or a narrowing of the coronary arteries, which leads to angina pectoris. Other symptoms may be diminishing brain functions, for example, memory impairment or dizziness.
If the arteriosclerosis progresses further, an arterial occlusion can lead to a total interruption of the blood supply and thus to an oxygen deficiency of an organ. Heart, brain and legs are particularly often affected by arteriosclerotic diseases.
Risk factors for the development of arteriosclerosis
Arteriosclerosis only becomes a disease through factors that accelerate its natural progression. This includes:
- High blood pressure because it exposes the vessels to greater pressure
- Diabetes mellitus
- Lack of exercise, overweight
- High-fat, unbalanced diet
- Smoking, as nicotine narrows the blood vessels
- High uric acid level
- Increased fibrinogen level (increased blood clotting)
- High homocysteine level
- Vitamin deficiencies
- high cholesterol because cholesterol builds up in the blood vessels
Patients with these risk factors should have their doctor check regularly.
Formation of arteriosclerosis
The vessels are lined inside with a smooth, thin cell layer - the intima. If certain harmful influences persist over a long period of time, this lining gets small cracks. The body's defense system is activated and sends - similar to a wound - his helpers. But this repair is not optimal: fluid penetrates into the vessel wall, a small swelling occurs and blood cells, fat and lime are set.
As a protective reaction, the inner vessel wall thickens, a so-called atheroma has arisen. The term comes from the Greek and means "flour porridge", because something similar looks like the resulting thickening.
Over time, more and more lime is stored at this point and the vessel wall becomes hard. A so-called plaque has emerged. From this point on one speaks of an arteriosclerosis. This narrowing of the blood vessel is not noticeable for a long time, because blood vessels can move far and thus keep the blood flow constant to a certain limit.
What happens at heart?
Such processes also take place in the small arteries that provide the heart with nutrients. There one notices circulatory disturbances usually only when the vessel is only open to a third. Then, the heavier strains cause the typical symptoms: shortness of breath and pain in the legs or chest.
If the constriction has developed very slowly, the blood vessel system can form bypasses (so-called collaterals). The body uses existing vessels to continue to supply the heart muscle with this "diversion". If such bypass circuits are present, complaints can remain at heart despite a clogged vessel.
Small cause - big impact
It becomes critical when small particles dissolve from the deposits in the vessel wall or the entire plaque breaks up. Then the vessel may suddenly become completely blocked. This congestion cuts the vessel section behind it from the blood circulation. The normally blood-supplied cells die.
If this happens at the heart, a heart attack develops, the clogging of cerebral vessels leads to a stroke - with heavy personal consequences.
Recent studies show that the greatest danger does not come from the thickest deposits, but from small, soft plaques. Because these are more unstable, have a thinner skin and a greasy core. Abrupt physical exertion or blood pressure fluctuations can burst the thin skin, often causing a blood clot.
Preventive measures against arteriosclerosis
Although every person gets this vascular disease with age. In a healthy lifestyle, however, it develops much slower. Our vessels are naturally designed to be passable to the blood for many decades. Some people around the age of 80 are known to have juvenile smooth inner arterial walls, while in some forty-year-olds, blood has to fight its way through a crater landscape.
If you want to stay healthy, you have to do something about it - and you should know what you can do. The best prevention is a sensible diet and sufficient exercise. In addition to prevention, however, the prevention or treatment of risk factors is also of great importance:
- regular control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- When cholesterol levels are high, pay attention to cholesterol-free diets, ie reduce butter, eggs, meat quantity
- Diabetics should always make sure that their sugar levels are adjusted correctly
- Stop smoking or at least reduce it
- Obese people should definitely strive for a weight reduction
Arteriosclerosis: When to the doctor?
Those who belong to the special risk groups for arteriosclerosis, should be checked for safety's sake regularly by a doctor. In addition, it is important to pay attention to the warning signs of his body: numbness in the legs or pain during running may indicate an arteriosclerosis and should therefore be checked immediately by a doctor.
This can determine by sampling, blood pressure measurements and if necessary imaging procedures, where the symptoms originate from. By means of a so-called angiography, for example, blockages in veins can be made visible with the aid of a contrast agent.
Treatment of arteriosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is basically not curable. With the right therapy, however, the course of the disease can be significantly delayed. Measures to treat atherosclerosis include the balloon catheter. This is inflated like a balloon at a present vessel constriction and stretches the narrowed artery, so that the blood can flow again. In addition, a so-called stent can be used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis. A stent is a small metal net that holds and holds open the artery like a support.
If it is not enough to dilate the narrowed arteries, an operation to lay a so-called bypass is required, in which the bloodstream is diverted. For this purpose, either the body's own or artificial veins are used.
Among other things, agents for lowering blood pressure or cholesterol are used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis. Occasionally acetylsalicylic acid is also prescribed to prevent the platelets from sticking to the vessel wall or to itself, thus forming a blood clot.
Reduce risk factors
All measures for the treatment of arteriosclerosis should always be accompanied by an appropriate remedy of the causes, ie a change in lifestyle or a treatment of the underlying cause disease. Otherwise, a renewed vasoconstriction and the corresponding consequences of atherosclerosis, such as a stroke or a heart attack, are threatened.