How to prevent circulatory disorders
Our blood is transported at about 70 beats per minute in every corner of our body. Of course, only if the blood vessels are free.
Blockages of the vessels can lead to a serious health threat. The blood falters, the body rebels - right down to a heart attack or stroke. This is not uncommon. In Germany alone 4.5 million people are suffering from the infamous arteriosclerosis.
The German sunday paper 'Bild am Sonntag' interviewed two specialists who explain what the consequences circulatory problems have, how to recognize them, and what treatments there are today.
Following the translation of the interview.
What leads to the clotting of the arteries?
"Fat and protein particles from blood and connective tissue hang to the walls of the arteries. It's called, plaques,” says Professor Karl-Ludwig Schulte, president of the German Society for Vascular Medicine and chief physician at the Vascular Center Berlin. "These deposits reduce the flow of blood. Unfortunately, this process takes place imperceptibly over the years. When the first symptoms occur, like intermittent claudication, the affected artery is already narrowed by 50 percent."
What is intermittent claudication?
Professor Schulte: "Physicians call it peripheral arterial occlusive disease, in short: PAD. A narrow artery e.g. in the thigh can lead to an under supply of oxygen in the calf muscle during running exercise. After a certain distance, patients must stop suddenly, because they have severe pain in the legs. The muscles recover while standing, the pain disappears. On so it goes on until the next pain attack."
Is it also a circulatory disorder when the feet feel numb after a long period of sitting?
Dr. Fahrig, Head of the Vascular Centre Berlin-Brandenburg at Hubertus Hospital, which is part of PGD International: "No, this is only a temporary nerve compressions without serious consequences."
Can I detect arterial problems before it comes to claudication?
Dr. Clemens Fahrig: "Unfortunately not. Therefore, from the age of 60 on everyone should go to ultrasonic inspection regularly; with existing risk factors such as smoking, one should start with 50. In general when a pain in the calf occurs during running one should also think of a disturbed blood flow and let this check quickly."
Whom do I contact?
Professor Schulte: "First the family doctor. He can transfer you to an angiologist. He can recognize a stenosis by ultrasound. Depending on the findings he prescribes blood-thinning medication and, when necessary, adjusts cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar level. And: it is imperative to give up smoking!"
Why does smoking harm your circulation?
Professor Schulte: "Nicotine constricts the blood vessels and damages them permanently. Most patients with circulation problems are smokers.” Except for arterial calcification smokers also can have Trombangiitis Obliterans, an arterial inflammation disease. Dr. Fahrig: "This disease exclusively affects smokers. Nicotine causes this inflammation in the vessel walls, leading to their closure. Only to stop taking in nicotine by smoking stops the process."
What could occur if atherosclerosis progresses?
Professor Schulte: "It may come to a complete arterial occlusion. If the coronary arteries are affected, it can lead to a heart attack, if it appears in the carotid artery it would result in a stroke. If it appears in other parts of the body, for example in the foot, the affected tissue will die off due to poor oxygen supply. If left untreated, PAD reduces life expectancy by an average of ten years."
Is it possible to "flush" the arteries, by drinking lots of water?
Dr. Fahrig: "Yes. Although much drink thins the blood, but the plaque is firmly caked with the vessel wall and thus can not be solved, not by drugs. Existing vascular damage therefore become permanent."
What procedures are eligible in narrowed arteries?
Professor Schulte: "One possibility is to expand the narrowed artery using a balloon catheter, sometimes also a stent is placed. The second option is a surgery, in which the blood clot that blocks the artery, a so-called embolus, is removed. Or a bypass is created."
Does sport help with blood circulation problems?
Dr. Fahrig, "Yes! As a precaution one should move twice a day for 15 minutes. For example, you can walk, go running or ride a bike. For PAD-sufferers, there are special vessel sports groups, in which one learns physiotherapy exercises, which will then be completed at home alone, plus a training run. The goal is that the body will form new arteries to bypass the narrowing ones."
Do warm temperatures improve the arterial blood flow?
Dr. Fahrig: "Although heat expands the arteries, the effects on the blood flow are slight. Swollen legs in the summer, however, can be a sign of an extension of the veins or lymph vessels. "
Are the symptoms of venous disease and narrowing of the arteries different?
Dr. Fahrig: "Yes. Arteries carry blood from the heart to the body parts. Arterial disorders are characterized by pale skin, stress-related pain in the calfs, discomfort to excruciating pain while resting. In veins, that carry blood back to the heart, varicose veins, thrombosis or inflammation can appear that usually cause tension pain. The affected parts of the skin are then swollen, red and feel warm."
Does everybody get atherosclerosis in old age?
Professor Schulte: "Not necessarily. Most people thankfully get arteriosclerosis in old age in a mild form without health problems. In order to prevent any progression, the most important thing is to avoid the risk factors as smoking, poor blood lipid levels and high blood pressure."