Arteriosclerosis: Symptoms, Impact & Treatment

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

You may have heard the term arteriosclerosis before. In this lesson, we'll learn more about arteriosclerosis including the symptoms and treatment options. We will also learn about the impact it has on someone's quality of life.

What is Arteriosclerosis?

Have you ever had a bathroom sink that drains so slowly that water just fills up in the sink? Or maybe your bathroom sink has stopped draining completely? Of course, we all have probably dealt with that. If you've ever seen a Drano commercial, you know that your sink isn't draining because the pipes have buildup in them. The buildup has narrowed the pipes or maybe blocked them all together which has caused the sink to fill up with water!

Your cardiovascular system consists of your heart and all the blood vessels in your body. The blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to all the cells of your body are called arteries. When the arteries have plaque buildup within the lining of their walls, they become thick and narrow just like your pipes had buildup. This is called arteriosclerosis.

Arteriosclerosis
arteriosclerosis

Since all the muscles of your body need oxygen and nutrients from your blood, if they don't get enough blood due to arteriosclerosis, this can cause problems!

Symptoms of Arteriosclerosis

The symptoms of arteriosclerosis depend on where the arteries are that are affected.

Bob has arteriosclerosis in his coronary arteries, which are the arteries that provide blood to the heart muscle. Due to the decreased blood flow, whenever he is active, he experiences chest pain. The pain is because the heart is working hard, but isn't receiving enough oxygen. He has to pace his activity and rest when he gets chest pain for the pain to go away.

Sally has arteriosclerosis in her legs. She has had this for years, and her feet are always cold, and she hardly has any hair on her calves anymore. When she climbs stairs or walks for awhile, she has pain in her legs. This is called claudication which simply means there isn't enough blood or oxygen flowing through the muscle.

Jack has arteriosclerosis in the arteries to his kidneys. This has caused him to have high blood pressure and mild kidney failure.

Complications of Arteriosclerosis

Arteriosclerosis can lead to a blocked artery either from continued buildup, a blood clot, or a piece of plaque breaking off. A blockage can cause significant problems and can be life-threatening. A blocked artery in the brain will cause a stroke or a blocked artery in the heart will cause a heart attack.

A blocked artery in an arm or leg can cause gangrene which is when tissue in the body dies due to lack of blood flow and may even require amputation of an extremity.

Impact on Quality of Life

Arteriosclerosis is life changing. Think back to Bob; he can't do the work that he used to be able to do. He is fearful of the chest pain and afraid he will die from a heart attack.

Sally's life has also changed. She can't keep up with her grown kids and grandkids due to the pain. She finds herself having to sit on the bench at the park while they play.

Jack has had to change his diet and take medications for his blood pressure and kidney disease. He is fearful that he will eventually require dialysis.

Complications of a stroke or heart attack are significant. If you survive from these, your life will forever be changed. Or if you were to develop gangrene and need to amputate your leg, you could imagine how much this would change life as you know it.

So how can we prevent arteriosclerosis?

How to Treat and Prevent Arteriosclerosis

Risk factors for arteriosclerosis include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, diabetes, smoking, and age. Lifestyle modifications can help to prevent arteriosclerosis. This includes eating a healthy diet of low fat, low sugar, and high fiber. Exercising regularly is good for your heart and circulation and helps to maintain a healthy weight. Smoking cessation is important as well.

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