The arteries, along with the veins, are the blood vessels that form the vascular system of the body. The system consists of hollow tubes through which the blood flows. The arteries are the vessels that carry blood away from the heart towards the body tissues. The terms "arteriosclerosis" and "atherosclerosis" are two of the medical conditions that involve primarily the arteries.
Sometimes the use of the terms arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis is substituted for one another. But these two conditions do have a difference, and certain factors pertaining to the occurrence of each of them enable the medical field to distinguish precisely between arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis.
To begin, arteriosclerosis literally means "hardening of the arteries". This condition actually refers to a group of disorders that commonly possess the characteristic of thickening and stiffening of the arterial walls. The most common of such disorders is atherosclerosis. While hardening of the artery walls may be caused by a number of factors, atherosclerosis, again being a form of arteriosclerosis, has a specific cause - the development of fatty deposits and consequent narrowing of the arteries. Such condition is likely to impair the flow of blood.
Arteriosclerosis, which causes a gradual deterioration of the artery walls, is the fundamental cause of coronary heart disease and of the interruption of the blood flow through the arteries of the brain, which occurs in strokes. Specifically in atherosclerosis, a problem may occur once the fatty deposits reduce the flow of blood through an artery; this results to the cutting down of oxygen supply to tissues downstream. Some examples: angina, heart attack or congestive heart failure may occur if a blockage takes place in coronary arteries; transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a stroke may occur if the obstruction is in arteries to the brain; and intermittent claudication may occur if the arteries in the legs are affected.
Atherosclerosis that causes intermittent claudication usually affects the calves, and the patient experiences muscle pain or cramping whenever he walks some distance; the pain, which occurs because the calf muscles are not receiving enough oxygen, disappears once the patient rests. Depending on where atherosclerosis occurs, the thigh, buttock or hip can also be affected by intermittent claudication.
Some cases of arteriosclerosis occur in most persons as they become older, but usually develop so slowly that these are not recognized until age 50 or over. Other risk factors for the occurrence of arteriosclerosis include high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of exercise, obesity, cigarette smoking, excessive nerve strain, and overeating - especially of foods high in saturated fat such as eggs, cream, butter, and meat.
Among the other effects of arteriosclerosis in general and atherosclerosis in particular are impaired kidney function, proneness to arterial rupture, hemorrhage, attacks of severe chest pain, mental deterioration, and paralysis. Some hardening of the arterial walls, with narrowing of the blood channels, often affect the small arteries of the extremities, especially the feet. Those with diabetes are prone to such conditions. In such cases, the extremities tend to be cold, and gangrene of the feet may develop if they are not kept warm, clean, and dry.
To distinguish accurately between arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis is without a doubt important as treatment will generally be based on the nature of these vascular problems. But treatment of these conditions is not very encouraging, for by the time they are recognized, damage to the tissues of the body has already occurred. It is for this reason that doctors emphasize more on prevention than on cure. Suitable diet, moderate exercise and avoiding overeating and cigarettes can help a lot in this regard.