In a healthy vascular system, oxygen-rich blood flows easily via the arteries directly into areas of the body such as the heart, kidneys, brain, genitals, legs, arms and pelvis. When this process becomes disturbed due to a build-up of plaque in an artery, symptoms of atherosclerosis may arise.
This disease is characterized by hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Although atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the body, it is often used to describe a pathological condition of the cardiovascular system. Typically, the first symptom to present, which involves the heart, is angina (chest pain). If the peripheral arteries bringing blood to the arms and legs are involved, early warning signs include pain and/or numbness of the limbs.
However, symptoms and consequences will vary depending on which artery has narrowed due to the intrusion of plaque. Some components of plaque include cholesterol, fatty materials and cellular waste products. For example, when the coronary arteries narrow and lose their elastic quality, not only is the risk of a heart attack greater, but so is the chance for developing heart disease. The coronary arteries are responsible for bringing fresh blood directly to the heart.
Blood clot formation is a big risk of atherosclerosis, which can potentially trigger a heart attack, or a stroke, if the carotid arteries are involved. The carotid arteries can be found on both sides of the neck and deliver oxygen-rich blood to the brain. When these arteries suffer from atherosclerosis, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) may be triggered, which presents with fleeting symptoms of a 'mini-stroke,' and may include paralysis of one side of the body or difficulties with speech.
Very often, in the beginning stages of atherosclerosis, no symptoms are present and diagnosis occurs after a medical emergency such as a heart attack, stroke or renal failure. Renal failure may occur when plaque debilitates the renal arteries, which service the kidneys. The kidneys play a vital role in removing waste and water from the body.
Although the exact cause remains a mystery, there are known risk factors.
Risks factors related to lifestyle include:
- Tobacco and cigarette smoking
- Eating a high fat and high cholesterol diet
- Lack of exercise
Other risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Family history of atherosclerosis
- Inflammatory disease (e.g. lupus)
If you are at risk, or have already received a diagnosis of atherosclerosis, making an appointment with your acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner can help you take control of managing your symptoms and reducing your risk of further injury. After your practitioner has assessed your particular symptoms, an appropriate acupuncture treatment plan will be created just for you. Still, regardless of the plan devised, it will work to improve circulation and blood flow, as well as lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Also, as part of your recovery and prevention plan, lifestyle choices and diet will likely be addressed. Not only is it important to make healthy food choices, but it is equally important to not overeat. Eating foods high in fiber, like most minimally processed grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal, can help reduce high blood cholesterol levels. Drinking warm green tea after each meal can also reduce cholesterol, plus it can invigorate blood flow. In an effort to promote blood circulation, try taking a brisk, 20-minute walk after meals. Swing your arms over your head, or side to side, to increase the benefits from movement.
Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help with your prevention or recovery plan!
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.