Your body has many pipes, called blood vessels. Arteries are the blood vessels that deliver necessary oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells. Without oxygen and nutrients, the cells and organs made from these cells can be damaged.
A blocked artery can cause a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. Narrowed or blocked arteries in the legs, called peripheral arterial disease, can make walking painful and difficult. If you have a narrowed or blocked artery in one part of your body, it is very likely you have the same problem in another area. Disease of the body’s pipes (arteries) is the leading cause of death in industrialized countries.
Many factors, including age, family history, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high cholesterol, and smoking, can affect the health of arteries. Being overweight also plays a role. All of these contribute to atherosclerosis, which narrows and blocks arteries.
We cannot control our age or family history. Fortunately, most factors that damage your arteries are within your control. Your body and health are your responsibility. Working closely with your health care providers, you can keep your arteries clean and healthy.
The word atherosclerosis (a-th-ro-skl-ro-sis) comes from the Greek ‘athro’ (meaning gruel or paste) and ‘sclerosis’ (meaning hardness). Atherosclerosis develops when deposits of fatty material, cholesterol, cellular waste, calcium and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood) form on the inner lining of a blood vessel.
Atherosclerosis is a complex process. Researchers believe it begins with damage to the inner layer of the blood vessel wall caused by:
Atherosclerosis affects arteries in many parts of the body, including the brain, heart, kidneys and legs. As it progresses, it narrows and roughens the surface of the blood vessels. Blood cells collect on the surface, forming a clot. Clots can break free and travel to another part of the body, or totally block the vessel where it has formed.
When atherosclerosis becomes severe it can cause problems such as:
High blood glucose leads to damage blood vessels. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test should be done when blood glucose levels are 5.7 – 6.9 mmol/L.
If you have diabetes, your fasting blood glucose level (not eating for three hours) should be between 4.0 to 7.0 mmol/L. Ask your health care provider for suggestions on what your glucose level after eating should be and for other determinants of your glucose levels.
Blood pressure (BP) circulates blood throughout the body. About two million Canadians have high blood pressure (hypertension). This is a leading risk for an early death.
Many controllable lifestyle factors can raise blood pressure. These include excess food, salt or alcohol intake, inactivity, long periods of stress, and smoking. In fact, simply removing fast food from your diet will dramatically lower your blood pressure.
Standard Drink Sizes
||43 mL or 1.5 oz. of 40 per cent spirits|
|Beer||341 mL or 12 oz. of 5 per cent alcohol beer|
|Wine||142 mL or 5 oz. 12 per cent alcohol wine|
The table below outlines the values for optimal blood pressure, stages of high blood pressure, and the blood pressure goal for people with diabetes. One elevated blood pressure reading does not mean you have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is only diagnosed after a series of blood pressure readings have been done by a health care provider.
High blood pressure has few to no symptoms, and so is known as the ‘silent killer.’ Symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness may only occur with very high blood pressure. High blood pressure thickens the heart muscle (making it harder for the heart to work) and damages blood vessels, leading to stroke, heart disease and kidney damage.
Each person’s best cholesterol level is determined by age, gender, medical and family history, blood pressure and whether or not you are a smoker. With the help of your health care provider, you can determine what level of cholesterol is best for you.
Factors that affect blood cholesterol levels include the following:
Being overweight increases your chances of having a number of health problems, including putting more strain on your blood vessels. Other risks include high blood pressure, diabetes, insulin resistance, stroke, heart disease, gallstones, and joint and bone problems. A ten per cent weight loss can significantly improve your health by improving blood glucose control, lowering blood pressure, increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, and reducing the risk of heart disease.
less than 102 cm (40 in.)
less than 88 cm (35 in.)
Recent studies have found that abdominal obesity is strongly linked to vascular cardiovascular disease. People who carry extra weight around the mid-section (apple-shaped) are more at risk for heart disease and stroke. Those with extra weight on hips, buttocks and thighs (pear-shaped) are less at risk. So, having a smaller waist is healthier for your heart and brain
|Underweight||Less than 18.5|
|Normal weight||18.5 - 24.9|
|Overweight||25 or greater|
|Obese||Greater than 30|
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is one way to determine your weight status. BMI is a ratio of height and weight. For most people, the BMI is a useful tool to determine weight status. (Since muscle weighs more than fat, this index may be inaccurate for body builders and professional athletes.) BMI is calculated by dividing body weight (in kilograms) by height (in metres) squared (kg/m2). Your weight is considered as follows (see table at right).
Health benefits start quickly when you stop smoking. After stopping for:
|blood pressure drops to normal|
|24 hours||chance of having a heart attack decreases|
|3 months||circulation improves and lung function increases.|
|1 year||risk of disease to heart blood vessels is reduced by 50 per cent|
|5 years||risk of stroke is reduced|
|10 years||lung cancer death rate is reduced by 50 per cent|
|15 years||risk of disease to heart blood vessels is the same as a non-smoker’s risk|
Smoking is the largest preventable cause of blood vessel disease. The habit greatly increases your risk of sudden death. Smoking raises your blood pressure, decreases HDL (good) cholesterol and increases LDL (bad) cholesterol. It increases blood thickness and makes blood more likely to clot. This key factor of atherosclerosis is within your control.
Making an effort to keep blood glucose levels close to normal, keeping blood pressure in the optimal range, getting your cholesterol and weight in target, and quitting smoking can make a big difference to your health. By keeping your pipes (arteries) clean, you can live a longer, healthier life. If you have any concerns about the health of your arteries, discuss your risks and what you can do to reduce those risks with your health care provider.