Frequently used interchangeably, the terms arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis have important differences in meaning. Understanding the specific meaning of each term can help clarify your understanding of what may be affecting the flow of blood from your heart throughout the rest of your body.
When cholesterol and fat plaques gather within your arteries and clog them, the correct term is atherosclerosis, a particular kind of arteriosclerosis. The resulting accumulation results in a narrowing of blood flow through the affected arteries.
Associated with age, arteriosclerosis is a defect affecting artery walls. It occurs when flexible artery walls lose natural elasticity due to reduced production of a protein (elastin). Loss of flexibility means arteries work harder to keep blood flowing, which can increase blood pressure and contribute to other health issues. There are no unique symptoms associated with arteriosclerosis. However, a patient who has age-related stiffening of artery walls won’t necessarily have atherosclerosis.
Call it by any name, arteriosclerosis–hardening of the arteries, narrowing of the arteries, or anything else–occurs when the flow of blood through the veins is restricted and as a result is unable to accomplish its primary purpose, carrying oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body. When arteries are healthy they are elastic and wide enough to allow rich cells through them. Unfortunately, once they have accumulated plaque from fats, cholesterol, and other substances on their lining, the blood flow is restricted. Arteriosclerosis can trigger any number of problems including blood clots, bursts in the walls of the artery and others, but the condition can be treated and prevented.
Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis, but in many cases, the terms are used interchangeably.
Whether detected early or following a heart attack, atherosclerosis is treated by removing the accumulated plaque from artery walls. A stent is then placed inside of the artery to prevent blockage from occurring again. A bypass graft may also be performed. During this procedure, a bypass pathway is created to improve blood flow where the affected artery is blocked. There is no treatment for arteriosclerosis. Patients with arteriosclerosis may go on to live a normal, healthy life with no issues.
Your risk of developing atherosclerosis can be reduced by maintaining a balanced diet that includes green, leafy vegetables, bright-colored fruits, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting regular exercise. Since arteriosclerosis is progressive and age-related, there’s no practical way to prevent it.
There are any number of preventive measures that can be taken for someone who has arteriosclerosis or who might be at risk of developing the condition. The best way to prevent arteriosclerosis is to monitor your body and its symptoms and recognize the things you put into your body as well as how you take care of it. For example, having frequent blood tests that check for cholesterol levels is an excellent way to determine your risk of arteriosclerosis. Whether you have high cholesterol or not, you should monitor your diet to make sure that you limit your fat intake and eat foods that are low in fat but high in nutrients.
Also make sure you get plenty of exercise, which can strengthen your heart and make it easier for blood to pass through your blood vessels, keeping them clear and flexible. Other factors that can affect your chances of having problems with arteriosclerosis are your age, which you can offset with lifestyle changes. Your doctor can provide you with many other tips to keep your chances of arteriosclerosis at a minimum.