What is Arteriosclerosis?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Arteriosclerosis is defined as stiffening or hardening or the arterial walls.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry healthy, oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the various peripheral organs of the body. As the arterial walls harden, the heart has to pump harder and against a greater resistance to enable that the arterial blood reaches all the peripheral organs.

History of arteriosclerosis

The name arteriosclerosis is derived from the Greek words meaning “hardening of the arteries.” Arteriosclerosis is a phenomenon that may have existed since ancient times even in Egypt. It was not until the 20th Century however that the word and its clinical implications became known.

It was in 1575 that Fallopius wrote of a condition where arteries degenerated into bones. The anatomists of that time noted these ossified arteries or arteries that had hardened into bone like structures.

Johann Friedrich Crell, in 1740 said that this hardening was not due to ossification of turning into bone but due to pus.

von Haller in 1755 found that these lesions that Crell thought were pus were actually something else. He named them atheroma that in Greek meant a space filled with gruel like matter.

The term arteriosclerosis was first used by Jean Fréderic Martin Lobstein while he analyzed the composition of calcified arterial lesions.

George Johnson described in his review on Bright disease in 1868 the noncalcified, nonatheromatous stiffening of small vessels. Gull and Sutton thereafter described arterio-capillary fibrosis that went on to be called arteriosclerosis.

Types and pathology of arteriosclerosis

Despite being used interchangeably arteriosclerosis is described under three headings – atherosclerosis, Moenckeberg medial calcific sclerosis and arteriolosclerosis. These lesions have three common features including stiffening of arterial vessels, thickening of the arterial wall and degenerative nature of the disease.

Risks and complications associated with arteriosclerosis

Those with arteriosclerosis commonly suffer from hypertension or high blood pressure.

Commonly arteriosclerosis progresses to atherosclerosis and its complications. These include coronary artery disease, when the atherosclerotic plaques occur in the arteries of the heart. This may lead to angina (chest pain on exertion), arrhythmias (abnormal heart rates or rhythms) etc.

Another complication of atherosclerosis is cerebrovascular disease (that raises the risk of stroke or a transient ischemic attack) and peripheral artery disease (PAD) that is progressive hardening and narrowing of the arteries in the legs and arms.

Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)

Sources

  1. http://www.archivesofpathology.org/doi/pdf/10.1043/1543-2165-133.8.1309
  2. http://www.arthritistrust.org/Articles_miscellaneus_Historical/Arteriosclerosis%20A%20Vital%20Message%20to%20My%20Patients.pdf
  3. http://www.preventfirst.com/education/Arteriosclerosis.pdf

Further Reading

Last Updated: May 26, 2013

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