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Healthy Living Blog

What Distinguishes Atherosclerosis from Arteriosclerosis?


People often use the medical terms atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis interchangeably, but the two conditions are actually quite different.


First, let’s take a look at what they have in common. Both conditions affect the arteries in a negative way. A person with atherosclerosis always has arteriosclerosis as well, but the reverse is not true. Let’s take a closer look.

What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque is deposited in the walls of the arteries, which causes them to narrow. This is a problem, obviously, because blockage of the artery can lead to stroke or heart attack.

The big question is what causes atherosclerosis—and the truth is that we don’t know for sure. There are, however, a few theories, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, cigarette smoking, diabetes, obesity and diseases that cause inflammation (such as arthritis).

What we do know is that atherosclerosis happens slowly, usually over the course of decades. Early on, there are no symptoms.

As the condition advances, symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath, sudden weakness, difficulty understanding speech and dizziness. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute advises that specific symptoms depend on what area of the body is being affected by the lack of blood supply—the heart, brain, kidneys or limbs.

What is Arteriosclerosis?

Just like atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis also affects the arteries—but in a slightly different way. The non-technical name for arteriosclerosis is hardening of the arteries, and that’s a very good description for the condition.

In healthy individuals, artery walls are normally quite elastic. That enables them to respond and adapt to high levels of exercise and exertion. Once arteriosclerosis sets in, artery walls become harder and more rigid, and blood pressure generally increases.

Arteriosclerosis is thought to be a genetic trait that typically worsens with age.

So What Can I Do?

There’s a reason the terms atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are so often confused: They pose the same risk and are also treated much the same way.

The first line of defense is typically to make lifestyle changes, which means—you guessed it—exercising, eating right, quitting smoking, losing weight and limiting alcohol use.

There is some debate in the medical community over the best diet to prevent heart disease. Some say limiting fat, especially saturated fat, is the key. Others say sugar is the real culprit.

Until that debate is solved (if it ever is), it’s a good bet to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy grains. It’s an even better idea to avoid sugar-laden beverages and processed foods. You can do a lot with just your diet; check out these foods you can eat to cleanse your arteries.

Surgery and medication are also options, especially when there is a significant risk of heart disease or stroke.

Where to Start

If you’re concerned about your risk of heart disease or stroke, the first step is to make an appointment with your doctor and find out where you stand. The good news is that whether you need to lose weight, quit smoking or eat better, there’s help available. Contact us today to take control of your health—and your future.

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