Arteriosclerosis (long version)
"Hardening of the arteries," or arteriosclerosis (as distinct from atherosclerosis), is apparently an inevitable change of aging.
The walls of blood vessels become stiffer as time passes, as does all connective tissue of the body. This is caused by (1)
cross-linkage of collagen, the protein which makes up the connective tissue of artery walls, and (2) by the slow steady diffuse
deposition of calcium in the walls of the arterial tree.
With arteriosclerosis, calcium builds up and becomes many times more concentrated in the wall of the normal artery than it
was in childhood. We are not talking about plaque formation but rather a diffuse deposition of calcium in the walls of arteries,
finally resulting in an arterial system that is said to be as stiff as a lead pipe. This is has sometimes been called "lead pipe
disease." Calcium content is what atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis have in common, but in atherosclerosis it occurs in
concentrations called plaques; in arteriosclerosis it occurs diffusely. When this occurs in late stages in the “periphery” (the arms, legs, hands, feet) it is called “peripheral artery disease” and can lead to necrosis (cell death), gangrene, and if not properly treated it may necessitate amputation. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can involve arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis, or both – usually both.
Aging can be thought of as a progressive dysfunction of calcium metabolism. As the body ages more and more calcium is
concentrated in the interior of cells. Dying of old age is, in a very real way, dying of calcium poisoning.
Of course, the most well known result of calcium deposit is heart attack, also called myocardial infarction. In most heart
attacks both atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are present. Atherosclerosis provides the plaque which narrows the artery
and arteriosclerosis stiffens the arteries so that they cannot expand with each heart beat to compensate for the blockage
caused by plaque formation.
The list of problems that can be caused by artery disease is truly impressive, but it should not be surprising that it is so
extensive given that a fresh supply of oxygenated blood is absolutely necessary for proper functioning in any organ. Even
diseases that are more complicated, in that they have causes other than decreased blood flow, are made worse by arterial
A prime example is Alzheimer’s Disease. True Alzheimer’s Disease is mimicked by simple aterio-/athero-sclerosis of the
arteries and arterioles supplying the brain. Diabetes is known to be made worse by poor blood flow to the pancreas, and
poor blood supply also can cause decreased output of digestive enzymes from the exocrine part of the pancreas, causing
Decreased blood supply to the kidneys results in the inappropriate release of angiotensin by the kidneys, inducing
hypertension throughout the vascular tree. The joints, particularly the joints of the low back, react with inflammation and pain
to decreasing blood flow and this, along with the degeneration of ligament tissue and disc disease, is responsible for the
so-called low back syndrome, also called lumbago.
The effect on the extremities is cold hands and feet, and in an advanced case, gangrene of the extremities can result.
Impotence can be caused by decreased blood flow to the penis due to clogged arterioles. Frigidity can be caused by
decreased blood flow to the pelvis. Cancer is known to be accelerated by decreased blood flow to the affected tissues.
When blood flow is decreased to the immunocompetent cells in the bone marrow and spleen, the immune system itself is
While arteriosclerosis by itself does not cause heart attack or stroke, the condition potentiates the effect of atherosclerosis to
produce these results. This potentiation is by virtue of the fact that when plaque develops in the presence of arteriosclerosis,
the stiffened and inflexible blood vessel wall does not have the ability to compensate by expanding with the increased blood
pressure of each heart beat. Thus the flow of blood is less than it would otherwise be due to the absence of flow around the
The diagnosis of arteriosclerosis is best made using a Doppler machine. This ingenious device listens to the sound of blood as
it rushes through an artery at speeds which vary with the phase of the heart cycle of contraction and relaxation. The
frequency of the sound varies with the speed of the blood cell’s transit through the artery which is being listened to. Higher
speed produces a higher frequency. From these changing frequencies the Doppler machine constructs a graph and from the
shape of the graph the flexibility or inflexibility of the arterial system can be accurately inferred.