Arteriosclerosis refers to several diseases in which the arterial wall thickens and loses its elasticity. Commonly confused with atherosclerosis, which is the formation of plaques consisting of cholesterol and other substances on the arterial walls, arteriosclerosis is the thickening and stiffening of the artery walls from too much pressure. Atherosclerosis can lead to arteriosclerosis, which comes from the Greek for “hardening of the arteries.”
The most common sites for arteriosclerosis are arteries in the brain, kidneys, heart, abdominal aorta, or legs. Symptoms of arteriosclerosis vary according to which arteries are affected. Leg pain when exercising might indicate peripheral arterial disease. Sudden weakness or dizziness could be caused by an obstruction in the carotid artery in the neck, which produces stroke-like symptoms. Chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack might indicate obstruction of the coronary arteries. Arteriosclerosis can also cause erectile dysfunction.
Risk factors for arteriosclerosis include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, stress, and diabetes. A virus or allergic reaction, chronic kidney disease, irritants such as nicotine and drugs, or too much of the amino acid homocystine can also lead to arteriosclerosis. A family history of early heart disease is also a risk factor for developing arteriosclerosis.
If you experience any signs of restricted blood flow, you should see your doctor. Those with poor blood flow in one area of the body are likely to have arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis in another part of the body. During a physical exam, your doctor may find signs of either arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis by several methods, including listening to your arteries through a stethoscope.
Decreased blood pressure in a limb or lack of a pulse in a narrowed artery could indicate arteriosclerosis. Other warning signs include a bulge in the abdomen or behind the knee. The physician might also notice poor wound healing in an area with restricted blood flow. Blood tests, imaging, ultrasounds, electrocardiograms (EKGs), and other tests help a physician diagnose arteriosclerosis.
Treatment varies according to the symptoms and severity of the condition, but can include exercise, medication, or surgery. Some treatments include reducing dietary calcium and increasing magnesium intake. Cholesterol lowering drugs, aspirin therapy, anticoagulants, and vasodilators are used in some cases. Patients should also try to control stress, eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, refrain from smoking, and maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
At least four different surgical methods are available for treatment of arteriosclerosis. Another form of treatment is thrombolytic therapy, in which a doctor inserts a clot-dissolving drug into the artery to break up the clot.