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What is Cerebral Arteriosclerosis? - Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

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

Cerebral arteriosclerosis affects the arteries in your brain. In this lesson, we'll learn more about the symptoms of cerebral arteriosclerosis as well as how to treat it.

What is Arteriosclerosis?

Your cardiovascular system consists of your heart and all your blood vessels. Blood travels through this system to provide nutrients and oxygen to all the cells in your body. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from your heart out to your body, and veins carry the deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Then the cycle continues!

Arteriosclerosis is a disease in which your arteries become thickened and narrowed, often due to the buildup of plaque (a mix of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances). These narrowed arteries result in decreased blood flow, which means cells may not receive enough oxygen and nutrients. If the arteries become blocked, or plaque breaks off and blocks a blood vessel, it can cause serious complications, such as a heart attack, an aneurysm, or a stroke.

Arteriosclerosis
arteriosclerosis

Arteriosclerosis can occur in any of the arteries in your body. In this lesson, we will focus specifically on cerebral arteriosclerosis, which affects the brain.

Understanding Cerebral Arteriosclerosis

Cerebral arteriosclerosis is a disease that occurs when cerebral arteries become thick, stiff, and narrowed due to plaque buildup, decreasing the blood flow to areas of your brain. Your brain is the control center of your entire body so you can imagine how important it is to have enough blood and oxygen get to your brain tissue!

If the buildup in the artery becomes too severe, or a blood clot becomes stuck in the narrowed artery, it can block blood flow to an area of the brain and cause an ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke is a serious and life-threatening condition that can result in permanent impairment to your brain and body functioning.

Ischemic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke

Cerebral arteriosclerosis can also result in an aneurysm, which is a weakened area in the artery wall that can become abnormally stretched out. If an aneurysm becomes too thin, it can burst and bleed. This is known as a hemorrhagic stroke, another serious and life-threatening condition.

Hemorrhagic Stroke
Hemorrhagic Stroke

Symptoms of Cerebral Arteriosclerosis

The three common symptoms of cerebral arteriosclerosis are:

  • Headaches
  • Facial pain
  • Impaired vision

Hazel is 75 years old and has had high blood pressure most of her life. She also has a family history of heart disease. Recently, she started having some new symptoms. They were vague at first, and she just ignored them. When they continued, she decided to see her doctor. She told her doctor that she has been having headaches almost daily for the last few months. She has also had pain in her face and has no idea why. Along with her other symptoms, her vision has gotten worse and everything is blurry. Hazel has experienced the three common symptoms of cerebral arteriosclerosis. After a further workup, her doctor diagnoses her with this disease.

How to Treat Cerebral Arteriosclerosis

Hazel's doctor has her come back to discuss treatment options for cerebral arteriosclerosis that will decrease her risk of further complications, such as stroke or death. He explains that lifestyle modifications, medications, and sometimes surgery is indicated.

Lifestyle modifications include eating a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and simple sugars. Since high cholesterol and diabetes are two risk factors for cerebral arteriosclerosis, eating fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and fiber are all beneficial. Hazel's doctor also recommends that she exercises regularly. Exercise helps keep your heart healthy and helps decrease your blood pressure. It also helps to maintain an appropriate weight, which can also decrease your blood pressure and risk of diabetes. Smoking cessation is also necessary.

Medications can be used to help manage blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes while helping to decrease the risks of cerebral arteriosclerosis. Your doctor may recommend taking aspirin to help decrease your chances of developing a blood clot.

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