Atherosclerosis is a term doctors use to describe the disease where your blood vessels get hard and narrow. Normally these blood vessels (arteries), that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body, are like a flexible and elastic hollow pipe.
This means they can react well to changes in your blood pressure: they widen when you need more blood to certain areas, and get narrower when less blood is needed. If they become hard and narrow this means that the blood cannot flow through them as easily.
The result? Your heart has to work extra hard to get blood around your body. You also have a higher risk for:
- Heart attack
- Heart Failure
- Erectile dysfunction
- Kidney Failure
- Poor circulation to the arm/legs/fingers/toes which can lead to ulcers, gangrene and loss of limbs
This doesn’t sound good does it? Luckily atherosclerosis is PREVENTABLE if we control the factors that cause it to happen. But you need to start early, before the damage is done!
Unfortunately you’ll have almost no symptoms until the hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels is very bad. This is why we have to know exactly what to do to prevent it!
What Causes Atherosclerosis?
A couple of things work together to damage the delicate inner lining of your arteries. Once they are damaged, fat, blood-clots and other substances can get stuck inside, almost like a scab. Over time, this scab gets bigger and starts to block the artery and makes the wall of the artery stiff. Now, any organ at the end of this artery can’t get enough blood, also, the scab can break off and block the artery completely, or the artery could burst open.
What puts me at risk?
The following things can make your risk worse:
- High Blood Pressure
- Autoimmune disease such as arthritis, SLE
- High Cholesterol (either through poor diet or genetics)
- High Triglycerides (another type of fat in your blood – this is raised from poor diets, drinking too much alcohol)
- Being overweight
- Lack of Exercise
- If someone in your family had a heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
What can I do to help myself?
- Manage your risk factors – so if you have High Blood Pressure/ Diabetes/ High Cholesterol, make sure you take your medication, go to your doctor regularly for follow-up and always tell your doctor if you have any new symptoms (such as chest pain, feeling more tired than usual, unusual feelings in the hands/ feet, difficulty getting an erection).
- Manage your lifestyle – Stop smoking, make sure you exercise 3-4 times a week, eat healthily and get to a healthy weight for you. Limit alcohol use and try to manage your stress.
- Be aware that even if you have no illnesses, are fit and healthy you could still be affected! Any family history (your mom, dad, grandparents or siblings) of problems mentioned here should make you alert that it could happen to you! Visit your doctor every year for a general check-up, and never ignore odd symptoms. This could save your life!
One last thing for all you parents out there – this disease can start during CHILDHOOD!! So make sure you teach your children from a very young age about eating healthily, exercising, being a healthy weight and looking after their bodies. Make sure you give them healthy food and lead by example – this is how they learn, and any habits learnt as a child will become their adult habits.
So the best place to start, is with yourself: Like mother, like daughter. Like father, like son.