Hardening of the Arteries In the Young

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What is hardening of the arteries?

Hardening of the arteries, medically known as arteriosclerosis, is a disease where blood clots and cholesterol deposits adhere to the inner wall of the arteries, eventually making the arteries lose its normal elasticity and transforming them into hard, or even calcified, pipes, whose caliber is narrowed or even totally blocked as years go by.

Who are affected by this disease?

The common impression is that hardening of the arteries affect only the old people, those in their 60s and 70s, and up. This not true. Autopsies performed on young children, ages 10 or down to 5 who died of accidents, have shown that their arteries, in the heart and the rest of the body, already had a thin lining or coating of hardening of the arteries. You could imagine how much thicker they are in us adults.

How does hardening of the arteries cause health problems?

Hardening of the arteries by itself does not cause any problems, so long as their function and capacity to transport blood to the muscles and vital organs is not impaired or reduced. If the caliber or the inner channel of the arteries is severely blocked by hardening of the arteries, and the arteries are unable to bring enough volume of blood (which contains oxygen and nutrients) to the tissues and organs they supply, those tissues and organs (like the brain, heart, kidneys, intestines, arms or legs and feet, etc.) will suffer from lack of oxygen and nutrition, which is medically termed ischemia.

What disease entities does hardening of the arteries cause?

Stroke, blindness, dizziness, heart attack, kidney failure, liver failure, intestinal gangrene, leg gangrene, foot gangrene, where tissues rot because of lack of oxygen and nutrients. There are other tissues and organs that could be similarly affected.

How common is hardening of the arteries among teenagers?

As stated earlier, this process starts at an early age, earlier than what the medical community care to admit or address. Obviously among teenagers hardening of the arteries are milder than those in the 20s or 30s or older, and certainly worse among those in the

40s and above. In general, the older a person is, the more prone he/she is to have more hardening of the arteries.

Does the age of the person parallel the degree of hardening of the arteries?

Age alone does not equate into the degree or severity of the disease in the person. There are individuals who are only in their late twenties or early thirties who have more severe hardening of the arteries compared to a 60 or 70 year old persons.

How do you explain the difference?

Usually, hardening of the arteries in the young is partly genetic (hereditary) and partly acquired. Acquired means the patients are the ones causing their own problem by their unhealthy lifestyle, like smoking, no exercise, eating pork, beef, eggs and other high cholesterol foods, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, lack of stress management, not taking care of their health problems (like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) So, when hardening of the arteries happens in young people (those below 40s), genetic is part of the problem, but unhealthy lifestyle is a big risk factor contributing to the problem.

What was the youngest you have done heart bypass surgery on?

The youngest patient we did coronary bypass surgery on was a 28-old American woman. She was not overweight, had diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, high cholesterol in her blood, was smoking at least a pack of cigarette a day since she was 14 years old. She was not taking care of herself, and did not listen to her doctors. She recovered well after surgery but she continued to live the same lifestyle.

In Cebu, the youngest coronary bypass patient we had (operated on about six weeks ago at Cebu Cardiovascular Center-Cebu Doctors' Hospital) was a 34-year old gentleman. He was also a overweight, a diabetic, hypertensive, hypercholesterolemic, but he did not smoke. His future is better than the first patient because he listens to his physicians and he is very serious in changing his lifestyle.

What should young people do to stay healthy?

Preventive medicine is the best "cure"! There is no wiser strategy in staying healthy than to adopt a healthy lifestyle. While there was confusion 3 or 4 or more decades ago as to what a healthy lifestyle was, today, with advances in research, medical and computer technologies, we know much much more as to what a healthy lifetyle is.

It is only logical to expect health problems when we smoke poisonous substances, when we overeat, eat the "wrong" food, stay overweight, not exercise, do not relax, or do not take care of ourselves. Plain common sense will tell us that this l;ifestyle will lead to health problems. You do not have to be a doctor to come to this conclusion.

What specifically could young people do to slow down hardening of the arteries?

The best time to start is really at the age you are at right this moment. Do not wait to grow older before adopting healthier lifestyle. The younger you are, the better. But it is never too late to change even among those who are in their 40s,50s,or 60s.

Since you could not have chosen your parents, there is nothing you can do about the genetic factor. But the modifiable risks, which are within your control, could and should, be avoided or reduced. A recipe for a healthy lifestyle includes the following ingredients: staying off drugs, no smoking, eating fish, vegetables, fruits, high fiber cereals, instead of pork, beef, eggs, diary products (skim milk is good); exercising every day by aerobic exercises, brisk walking, swimming, tai chi, ballroom dancing or rock & rolling, learning how to relax, preferably with family, a friend, or friends, with good music and a good laughter, watching your weight. Being at peace with others and, especially with yourself, brings down the adrenalin and harmful chemicals in our system, and increases the endomorphins and other good chemicals in our body, and slows down aging and hardening of the arteries.

Are we really as old as our arteries?

Yes. One of the great physicians who ever lived, Sir William Osler, said that we are indeed as old as our arteries. The aging process is cause by hardening of the arteries, and NOT the other way around. When the blood supply to our face is reduced by hardening of the arteries or by constant exposure to the elements, our skin (and our facial feature in general) becomes "older," and wrinkles form more easily.

Page Four Hardening of the Arteries Are there drugs or medications that could slow down the hardening of the arteries and, therefore, the aging process?

There are medications today that help in lowering blood cholesterol and fats in our body, which help to a certain extent in slowing down the process of hardening of the arteries. However, we still do not have medications or drugs that actually slow down the aging process significantly, by themselves, in a consistent and scientifically measurable fashion. Medical research is in constant search for this "Fountain of Youth" from time immemorial. Don't worry, this research will go on until science finds it.

In the meantime, we can, today, slow down hardening of the arteries to a significant degree by the preventive measures we discussed earlier, and by adopting a lifestyle that will give us a longer, healthier, happier and more productive life.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.