There are many causes for hardening of arteries. The other name for hardening of arteries is atherosclerosis. Arteries are the types of blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from heart to various parts of the body. In case of hardening of arteries or atherosclerosis which is type of medical disorder, these arteries become narrow because of deposition of fat which gradually hardens to form a plaque. The hardening is due to fibrous tissues and the process is called as calcification. The deposition of the plaque cause the inner tubes of the artery to get narrowed resulting into reduced supply of blood and oxygen to the different organs of the body. In some cases the plaque formation can turn into a complete blockage of artery which can cause stroke or heart attack which is life threatening.

Hardening of arteries or atherosclerosis is a particular case of arteriosclerosis but very often people use these terms in place of each other. Atherosclerosis is a medical condition where arteries are unable to maintain proper flow of blood because of the deposition of cholesterol, fats and other substances on the inside of the artery along the walls.

What Causes Hardening of the Arteries?

What Causes Hardening of the Arteries?

What causes hardening of arteries is a great question to ask your doctor. According to experts there are multiple causes for hardening of arteries. The deposition of fats is a gradual process and thus hardening of arteries can start at a very early age when we are young but we may not realize any complications or symptoms until the deposition reaches to a significant level and starts interfering with the supply of blood and oxygen. As these fatty material known as atheroma gets deposited on the inner linings of the arteries, it causes inflammation in the walls of the arteries. The arteries recognize the problem and activate the defense mechanism which tries to seal this using fibrous material which slowly makes way for the deposition of plaque. Again this plaque causes more inflammation and there is further development of connective tissues. In this way the situation continuously gets worse and eventually these heavy plaque formation results in complete obstruction or blockage in the path of flow of blood through arteries causing hardening of arteries.

Researchers and experts are still trying to find the exact cause of hardening of arteries. However the causes that can lead to hardening of arteries might be classified into two categories. The first categories include the causes of hardening of arteries that can be taken care of by suitable changes in lifestyle and the second category is of those which cannot be controlled or rectified.

Below are the causes of hardening of arteries that can be rectified by change in life style:

High Blood Pressure or Hypertension Can Cause Hardening of Arteries

If you have high blood pressure (B.P) or hypertension and if you do not work towards proper management of it, after some time hypertension can lead to hardening of arteries. Constant raise in blood pressure is not a good indication of a healthy body and over a period of time it can lead to many health issues which include hardening of arteries. So change in lifestyle can help in reducing hypertension.

High Cholesterol in the Blood Might Cause Hardening of Arteries

Increase in the level of cholesterol in blood particularly what we refer as bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or in short LDL cholesterol can cause hardening of arteries. Cholesterol is actually a form of fat and proteins which are carried into our through blood stream. If the level of cholesterol increases in blood, there will higher tendency to deposit the excess fats on the wall of the arteries which is the main cause of the hardening of the arteries. Watching what you are eating and making sure that changing your lifestyle to eat healthy food helps in a long way.

Hardening of Arteries Caused Due to Smoking

Habit of smoking cigarette; Smoking is usually known to affect mainly lungs but it the fact is that it causes much more damage by effecting the blood circulation leading to major problems. Smoking allows nicotine a very harmful substance to enter into the blood stream and since it is a foreign material and threat for the body and thus activates the defense. The defense mechanism involves release of fats in the blood as it provides the instant energy to fight. Thus the stored fat into our body gets pushed into the blood stream which ultimately ends up depositing in the arteries and causing hardening of arteries and blockage. Quitting smoking is a good lifestyle change.

Hardening of Arteries Caused Due to Poorly Managed Diabetes

Patients who are diabetic are at higher risk of developing hardening of arteries. In case of diabetic patients there is not enough release of insulin. Poorly managed diabetes with glucose levels that spike regularly puts patients at risk of hardening of arteries. Changing your lifestyle for proper management of diabetes can help in reducing hardening of arteries.

Being Overweight Will Cause Hardening of Arteries

Hardening of arteries is high in individuals who are obese. Obesity is directly linked to the amount of fat deposition into the cells of our body. The food is intended to act as the source of energy but when it is not utilized, it starts to deposit as fat causing obesity. This fat also flows through the blood stream and thus in case of obese people, there are increased chances of deposition of fat on the walls of the arteries causing hardening of arteries. Working on reducing weight is a positive lifestyle change.

Failure to Exercise Regularly Might Cause Hardening of Arteries

The chance of causing hardening of arteries is high among the people who do not exercise very often or not at all. Regular exercising prevents the deposition of excessive fat into our body. With the change in the lifestyle, physical activities have become very less and thus we need to exercise regularly to cut down the deposition of fat. Those who do not exercise regularly have higher amount of fats in the blood which can easily deposit on the walls of arteries causing hardening of arteries.

Poor Eating Habits Can Increase the Chances of Hardening of Arteries

Improper diet containing too much of saturated fat which comes from food products like dairy products, meat, eggs etc… and fast foods. This is often referred to as the McDonald's syndrome. People who include fruits and vegetables in their diet and lifestyle are at much lesser risk of causing hardening of arteries to themselves.

Exposure to Severe Air Pollutants May Cause Hardening of Arteries

It has also been reported in the research work carried out at University of California in Los Angeles that people who are over exposed to air pollutants especially particles of diesel exhaust have a risk of developing hardening of arteries. Actually there is Teflon like coating on the inner walls of the arteries to facilitate the easy flow of blood. These pollutants from air particularly carbon monoxide (CO) damages this layer which allows fats and plaque particles to easily sticks to the walls of the arteries leading to undesired deposition.

The other causes of hardening of arteries which cannot be avoided are:

  • Degradation in body due to ageing which reduces the rate of pumping of heart and increases chances of easy deposition of fats leading to hardening of arteries.
  • Choice of gender is a cause of hardening of arteries. Male are at higher risk as compared to female but only till the age group where women do have not started having menopause.
  • Genes can play a role in causing hardening of arteries. Genetics can play a role in causing hardening of arteries. In case of individuals whose parents or brothers/sisters have any cardiovascular disease or familial hypercholesterolemia are at higher risk of causing hardening of arteries.
  • Race to which you belong is also a cause of hardening of arteries. African Americans are more susceptible to disorders like high blood pressure and thus there is an increased threat of congestive heart failure, heart attack or even death.

In America, close to three hundred and eighty people die every year from diseases related to the heart and around 720,000 suffer heart attacks every year. In the Asian countries, though, the situation is a bit different with heart conditions being significantly lower. One possibility could be differences in genes although poor diet, failure to exercise and other differences in the environment could also be responsible for the differences.

Treatment for Hardening of Arteries

Treatment procedures involving use of drugs basically work as a preventive measure for hardening of arteries. The early treatment involves use of drugs for treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels in blood. Anti-coagulant drugs are also used to try and rectify the formation of plaque gradually. Doctor would usually advice the patient to make healthy changes to lifestyle to reduce hardening of arteries like quit smoking, reduce intake of alcohol, exercising etc…

Some of the drugs like senolytic drugs are in experimental phase and have shown good results in treating condition of atherosclerosis in mouse and also enhancing the cardiovascular system in old mice.

Surgery for Hardening of Arteries

Surgical methods of the treatment of hardening of arteries are as follows:

  • Angioplasty and Stent Placement for Treating Hardening of Arteries: In this procedure a catheter is inserted into the artery which is to be treated and then another catheter containing a deflated balloon is inserted through the same passage. The balloon is slowly inflated to open up the artery by pressing against the deposited plaque and pushing it towards the wall. Finally to avoid it from retracting, a mesh tube is left inside to hold the walls permanently.
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery for Hardening of Arteries: In this method a healthy section of vein is connected along the blocked artery with its ends at just above and below the blockage. This vein provides an alternate path to the flow of blood and thus ensuring regular flow of blood just like a bypass hence referred as bypass surgery.
  • Endarterectomy to Treat Hardening of Arteries: In this method the blocked artery is treated by removing the deposited materials along the walls that are causing the narrowing of the artery.
  • Thrombolytic therapy for Treating Hardening of Arteries: In this method, clot dissolving medicines are used to break the deposition of plaque and get it working normally as earlier.

Alternative Treatment for Hardening of Arteries

Experts believe that certain herbal supplements and foods can lower high cholesterol in the blood and reduce hypertension.These are some of the causes of hardening of arteries. These herbal supplements can be considered for reducing the hardening of arteries upon seeking the doctor's advice. These supplements should not be taken without consulting the doctor as some of them could react adversely with the medication for hardening of arteries.

Yoga and deep breathing is also recommended to help with relaxation and stress reduction. These relaxation practices could help with the reduction of blood pressure thus reducing the general cause of hardening of arteries.

Cholesterol is mostly found in foods from animals. Saturated fats usually harden at room temperature thus causing the problem. Vegetables, fruits, cereal grains and starches contain no cholesterol and little saturated fats and hence they are recommendation.

Home Remedies for Treating Hardening of Arteries

Home remedies can help in managing the condition of hardening of arteries. The following home remedies could help:

  • Consumption of food with low concentration of saturated fat and zero or low cholesterol levels.
  • Low sodium consumption especially for people with high blood pressure is a good home remedy.
  • Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables rich in fibre is an excellent home remedy.
  • Fish consumption at least two days in a week is good in treating hardening of arteries.
  • Weight reduction to a healthy weight within one's BMI (Body Mass Index).
  • Working out under direcives from a healthcare provider.
  • Continuous monitoring of blood glucose levels and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels.

Lifestyle Changes for Hardening of Arteries

Lifestyle changes remain the most effective method in fighting hardening of arteries. The most effective way to prevent hardening of arteries, is to make modifications of one's lifestyle and adopt a healthy one.

  • Vaccination against the flu may be a good way to manage hardening of arteries. According to research , vaccination against the flu reduces the probability that one will develop a heart attack by up to fifty percent in middle aged people with signs of hardening of arteries.
  • Eliminating saturated fats from one's diet as they increase the level of LDL (bad cholesterol) is a good lifestyle change. Some foods like olive oil, white meat like fish, nuts, avocado and seeds may help as they help lower bad cholesterol.
  • Another great lifestyle changes is to exercise. Exercise can help one loose weight by walking, running, swimming among others. It also lowers blood pressure by improving one's fitness levels.
  • Smoking is a major cause for hardening of arteries. Quiting smoking is important in safeguarding one's health. One should seek advice from a healthcare provider to help in managing the symptoms that arise from smoking ceasation.

Prognosis/Outcome for Hardening of Arteries

There is no defined outcome for hardening of arteries. Some people can live for years with narrow arteries whereas others can die suddenly from the first time hardening of arteries manifests. The emphasis therefore lies in changing one's lifestyle and prevention of this condition of narrowing or blockage of the arteries before it even occurs.

Prevention of Hardening of the Arteries

Hardening of arteries is a condition that does not respect people. It can affect all regardless of age or nationality. Prevention is the only fight that works. To prevent hardening of arteries, one needs to make changes concerning the condition causing factors that can be changed. These include: obesity, cigarette smoking, hypertension, high levels of glucose in the blood, poor exercise habits, high cholesterol intake among others.

  • One should adopt a healthy diet by consuming fruits and vegetables in high quantities to prevent hardening of arteries.
  • One should adopt relaxation techniques to prevent the stress levels.
  • Lifestyle changes help one adopt wholesome wellness by reducing weight through exercise.

Waiting for a warning or symptom of hardening of arteries can be fatal since the first warning for most people could be their last. It may come as a myocardial infraction or stroke. Following a prudent diet may be the only insurance against either and it is always best to begin now.

Complications in Hardening of Arteries

The complications associated with hardening of arteries can vary in accordance with the type of arteries which is blocked.

  • Coronary artery disease is a complication of hardening of arteries. This situation can arise if any of the arteries close to the heart is narrowed or blocked and can cause pain in chest, heart attack or even failure of heart.
  • Carotid artery disease is a possible complication of hardening of arteries. This situation can arise if any of the arteries close to the brain is narrowed and can cause transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
  • Another complication of hardening of arteries is peripheral artery disease. This situation arises when any of arteries in your hands or legs are narrowed down and it can reduce the ability of hand or leg to sense stimulus like cold and heat making you prone to burns. In extreme cases the lack of flow of blood can even lead to death of tissue which is referred as gangrene.
  • Aneurysms are also a complication of hardening of arteries. This situation occurs when reduced flow of blood or obstruction in flow of blood can lead to formation of bulge along the walls of artery. This can occur in any part of the body. Usually aneurysm does not show any symptoms and you can only feel slight pain or throbbing in the affected artery. It needs immediate medical treatments as the bulge can burst out leading to excessive internal bleeding which can be life threatening.
  • Chronic kidney disease is also a likely occurrence arising from hardening of arteries while trying to deliver oxygenated blood to the kidneys. This can hinder the kidney functions resulting in kidney failure.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: July 22, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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