By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer
There are two circulatory systems: blood circulatory system and lymphatic system in our body, and efficient working of those systems keep us healthy and shapely, too.
We are only discussing about the blood circulatory system, also called cardio-vascular system, in this article. The central pump (heart) including the receiving pump in this system are the central figures most important to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the cells of the body and return the de-oxygenated blood (bad blood) back to the right chambers of the heart be sent to the left chambers of the heart after purification (oxygenation) in the lungs. Just like the circulatory system the pump (heart) needs to be maintained in prime condition to remain healthy.
The complex system of circulation that supplies nutrients and oxygen can get disturbed and result in diseases detrimental to our health.
The pipes (arteries) in this system can get damaged. In healthy situations, they are flexible, elastic and expandable, as seen mostly in young kids. In a condition called Atherosclerosis these pipes can get hardened in patches with fatty deposits from your food and other inflammatory processes, may cause partial obstruction to the flow of oxygenated blood and micronutrients, resulting in irreparable harm to your body.
Such pathological changes do occur with age, and lifestyle changes. High blood pressure is one of the commonest outcomes of thickened arteries. High blood pressure may affect your heart, kidneys, eyes, cognitive decline and may lead to stroke through neglect.
There is a difference between ‘Arteriosclerosis’ and ‘Atherosclerosis’. One could say that the latter is a specific type of arteriosclerosis. The former occurs through aging and is a natural phenomenon in all human beings. Over time the walls in your arteries can harden for no definite reasons, other than just aging and genetics may play a part in it.
When you are over forty, you need to check your blood pressure yearly, failing will result being a victim to this silent killer. According to the American Heart Association under the new guidelines the BP should be below 130/80 from 140/90 millimeters of mercury. Above these figures you enter the criteria for stage 1 hypertension.
Lifestyle changes without pills can lower blood pressure, during this early stage of hypertension. Lose weight, read labels, avoid foods containing very high amounts of sodium (salt) such as breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizzas, and Chinese food. Did you know that Chinese and Japanese food includes lot of salt? It is paradoxical why those nations do not show a higher incidence of hypertension and other circulatory problems.
Heart disease: Not only blood vessels supplying the periphery of the body gets affected in hypertension, the coronary blood vessels of your heart can get constricted with hypertension. These vessels get blocked by blood clots and lead to anginal episodes and heart attacks. So, always keep your BP in the normal approved range.
With chronic neglected hypertension your heart valves can prolapse and lead to incomplete closure, leading to leak and back flow of blood (regurgitation). Narrowing of the valves in hypertension can cause stenosis (narrowing) and preventing the free flow of blood from the heart.
Arrhythmias: With uncontrolled blood pressure, the heart muscles get strained and stressed and contractions could become erratic, can cause abnormal heart rates and rhythms. You could always self-diagnose this condition from feeling an irregular pulse rate at your wrist, or a dropped beat.
High cholesterol: You may have read that cholesterol has made a U turn, giving you the idea not to worry about eating foods with high cholesterol. It is partially true that cholesterol in your food such as in eggs may not influence the cholesterol numbers in your blood, but remember most foods have high saturated fats along with natural cholesterol that harms. So, avoid unhealthy diets, and lead an active life with regular exercise to lower your cholesterol in your blood. The bad cholesterol (LDL) do collects in plaques and damage the blood vessels (arteries). If you have high cholesterol due to genetic factors, you need to take statins to control the cholesterol numbers in your blood.
Heart failure: With high blood pressure the peripheral blood vessels tend to get stiff and non-elastic. This leads to back pressure on your pump (heart) and cause additional strain on your left ventricle that pumps your blood to the rest of your body.
Neglecting your hypertension ultimately leads to heart failure. Initially the heart muscles get hypertrophied (expanded). At this stage x rays reveal an enlarged heart. If no remedial action is taken the muscles can get weak and go into failure. At this terminal stage, there is water-logging in your body, lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, and lead to a miserable life causing much misery to yourself and loved ones.
Stroke: Due to high blood pressure the vessels supplying the brain can rupture, or lead to blockage with blood clots and prevent oxygen from getting to the brain.
Most strokes are preventable. You only need to keep your BP under control with healthy lifestyle changes.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD): With chronic hypertension your peripheral blood vessels could narrow just like the central ones. Uncontrolled diabetes is one of the main culprits that can cause this condition, and ultimately leads to gangrene of limbs needing amputation. Such incidents are rare today, as most people have access to good health care.
Carotid artery stenosis: In addition to narrowing of the limb vessels, it is quite common to see the carotid arteries supplying blood to the brain getting restricted with plaque formation in these main vessels in the neck. The plaques can get dislodged, ulcerate and bleed, causing a condition called Transient ischemic attacks (TIA). This leads to a transient stroke, a warning sign for action to prevent a full- blown stroke.
Aortic aneurysms: Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to ‘ballooning out” at weak points I your blood vessels, as at bifurcations of vessels. These bulges or aneurysms could burst and become medical emergencies.
Other factors: To keep your circulatory system healthy you need to be aware of the consequences of neglect. Smoking can damage your blood vessels. Fortunately, the incidence of smoking among the adults are reducing, whilst it catches on among the young and in third world countries where the cigarette companies still promote through advertising.
Being overweight could be a strain on your heart and circulatory system. However, awareness, keeping your weight under controlled with healthy low-calorie diets and exercise the risk could be reduced.
Inflammation from diseases: There are certain diseases where thickening and narrowing of blood vessels are inevitable, includes arthritis, lupus an autoimmune disease, and inflammation due to unknown causes.
Conclusions: Be aware of circulatory diseases and take lifestyle measures to prevent them. Do not weight to see the doctor until you get a life-threatening circulatory problem, as they are all preventable unless there is a congenital or familial factor.
Eating a healthful diet, checking your BP regularly, exercising, not smoking can avoid these preventable issues in your circulatory system. If you are a diabetic, you need to tightly control blood sugar levels with proper diet and medication.
Hope this article will help you to stay fit and lively.
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