of the Arteries"
of the arteries" is a phrase that conjures up an ominous
picture for a concerned person seeking to maintain good
health. As one's years advance, so do the diseases of aging,
most of which are intimately related to this "hardening"
process, called arteriosclerosis. A medical school classmate
of mine recently shared with me the description of the aging
process he had heard. He said, "This is the time of life
when things that should be dry get wet, things that should
be wet get dry, things that should be soft get hard, and
things that should be hard get soft." This description
easily encompasses a variety of abnormalities that afflict
such things as urinary incontinence,
tearing eyes, runny noses, wet or dry coughs, dry eyes, dry
mouth, dry skin, absence of vaginal lubrication, hardening
of the arteries, stiffening of the joints and muscles,
cataracts, and sexual impotence.
is the name of the process responsible for the major
diseases of aging. As do many terms in medicine, this name
comes directly from Greek, arteria (artery), and sclerosis
(hardening). It is a condition in which the blood vessel
wall becomes thickened, harder, and less elastic. Sometimes
calcium deposition is also seen in the artery wall. This
causes the inside of the artery, called the lumen, to
narrow, and blood flow to diminish in the arteries affected.
When deposits in the arteries are plaques of cholesterol and
fats, or lipids, the condition is called atherosclerosis,
that is a special kind of arteriosclerosis. The mechanism of
damage in arteriosclerosis is the decrease in circulation to
vital structures that results from the narrowed
specific disease entity, and the symptoms that can occur,
depend on which blood vessels are affected. While
arteriosclerosis tends to be a generalized condition, some
blood vessels may be affected earlier or worse than others.
When the blood flow oxygenating and nourishing a particular
part of the body fails, a disease process develops there.
The important "target organs" that may be damaged are the
brain, the heart, and the kidneys.
the arteries affected lead to the head, the signs and
symptoms that can occur are stroke, seizures, paralysis,
fainting spells, "black-outs", falls, loss of memory and
intellectual capacities, dizziness, or visual impairment.
"Hardening" or fatty deposits in the coronary arteries of
the heart can result in angina pectoris, heart attack, heart
rhythm disturbances, heart failure, or sudden
of blood flow to the kidney can cause high blood pressure,
and kidney failure, sometimes called uremia. If the arteries
to the legs are affected, one may have pain and muscle
cramping with exercise, called claudication. Skin ulcers
from poor circulation to the surface can happen, or even
gangrene of the extremity requiring amputation. Erection and
hardening of the penis with sexual arousal depends on
adequate arterial blood flow, so impotence may be
arteriosclerotic in origin. Obstruction of the arteries to
the intestinal tract can also occur, resulting in symptoms
of abdominal pain after eating, and malnutrition. When
complete blockage of the arteries to the bowel (mesenteric
arteries) occurs, gangrene of large portions of the bowel
may develop. When this happens, death follows unless the
gangrenous intestine is promptly removed by a surgeon. If
sufficient bowel is lost, such a person will then be
permanently dependent on an intravenous solution for total
arteriosclerotic complications described above are
associated with the diseases that will eventually kill most
of us, and are worthy of close attention, research, and
treatment. Considering the amazing advances in technological
and scientific knowledge in the medical field over the past
50 years, one might wonder why this problem is not closer to
a solution than it is.
In Medical History
to Modern Times
changes associated with arteriosclerosis have been
recognized for thousands of years. Studies have shown that
man had arteriosclerosis. This can only be assumed, since there
is no way to examine the arteries of ancient human beings.
Only bones remain as fossils. Studies of prehistoric bones
have demonstrated diseases such as degenerative arthritis,
bone tumors, and bone infections. The oldest human "soft
tissue" available for examination is that from preserved
The heart and arteries can be examined in mummies. The
remains of Egyptian royalty who lived in 4,000 B.C. have
been found to have advanced arteriosclerotic disease.