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What Is Meant By Hardening Of The Arteries

( Originally Published 1921 )

As a rule the scientific name of a thing is a better description of it than the popular one. The scientific name for hardening of the arteries is arteriosclerosis, which means the toughening of the fibres of which the blood vessels are made up. That implies that the disease is really a change in structure. As a matter of fact, hardening of the arteries is rather a change in behavior than a change 'in structure, and the change in behavior is much more important to the person who has the disease than the change in structure.

If the muscle of your arm should turn to stone, it would feel hard when you took hold of it ; and when you "put up" your muscle, as the children say, it also feels hard, but with a different quality of hardness. Indeed, the muscle of a boy who has trained himself becomes hard when he chooses to make it so. The hardening of the arteries is much like this last, except that when muscular contraction has gone on for a long time, the arteries become tough and brittle.

The fact that hardening of the arteries is chiefly a misbehavior gives us hope that much can be done for it. If we hold the old-fashioned view that hardening of the arteries is due to a deposit of lime salts, turning the arteries into structures resembling the stems of clay pipes, we are driven to taking a gloomy view of the health prospects of one who has hardening of the arteries. The fact is, however, that no such condition exists except as a freak of nature in some very old people; those whom I have seen in this condition have generally been eighty or ninety years old, and perhaps at that time of life ought not to have been worried about it.

The hardening of the arteries that is like the hardening of the muscle in the boy's arm is due to a contraction of the arteries because they are irritated by poisons circulating in the blood, or' to nervous causes, or to poor heart action. The disease can be hopefully treated by diet and exercise and other appropriate means. The usual cause of this hardening is a disturbance of the relation of the person to his food. It does not mean necessarily that the food itself is poisonous, but that the person affected is out of joint with the food. It is as tho some fine morning a man goes down to his office and everybody there gets on his nerves. The chances are that the people in his office are just as nice as they ever were, but he himself has gotten out of bed on the wrong side. People develop hardening of the arteries because their systems are in a condition to be irritated and damaged by the good and healthy foods that at other times would have been perfectly proper for them. The foods to which people ordinarily develop this evil relationship are the nitrogenous foods containing sulphur the foods which come from eggs, fish, and meat.

Up to the time when these foods become bad for people, they are perfectly wholesome for them; so that vegetarianism and such extreme beliefs are not in conformity with the facts. The proper diet in cases of arteriosclerosis (or hardening of the arteries) is the diet that excludes those foods: which are irritating to the particular individual affected.

Hardening of the arteries may consist of a functional or an organic hardening. Organic hardening of the arteries consists of a deposit in the artery of hard fibers or of lime like, chalky lumps. In this way, the arteries are rendered stiff and perhaps even brittle, and at the same time they become elongated and twisted. Some-times they can be seen in this condition on the temples and in other parts of the body.

Organic hardening of the blood vessels is a common occurrence with the advance of age. It also happens in younger people from errors in diet, from infectious diseases, and from kidney and heart trouble. It leads to high blood pressure, to increased work on the part of the heart, and tends to a gradual wearing out of the body; or, one of the blood vessels may rupture and cause apoplexy. Thus organic hardening of the arteries is a serious matter, and one in which care is exceedingly important.

Functional hardening of the arteries is due to the contraction of the muscular middle coat of the vessels. It may occur as a passing affection, as when the arteries contract to help out the weakened heart, or when there is some demand for high blood pressure; or, it may be a more or less permanent condition, leading to a thickening of the muscular coat and causing high blood pressure, and finally leading to organic hardening.

This functional hardening of the arteries is detected by feeling the pulse and finding the radial artery small and hard; it is also inferred when the blood pressure is found to be high,

It sometimes occurs when organic hardening is giving trouble, and is a cause of high blood pressure in many such cases ; when that is relieved, even organically hardened arteries may be rendered harmless to the patient.

Functional hardening of the arteries is a matter of high importance in all heart patients, in all kidney patients, and in many forms of chronic diseases, because it is the point where many diseases cause harm ; at the same time, it is capable of being prevented and cured, chiefly by hygienic measures. Hardening of the arteries can not last long without producing heart disease, and usually kidney disease.

A person with hardened arteries who does not have treatment can not continue long with-out developing heart disease. He is in danger from three causes: from the failure of the heart, from the failure of the kidneys, and from dam-age to the brain through injury to the blood vessels of the head. But with a well-regulated life and proper attention to diet, there is no limit to the years in which one can maintain every outward appearance. of health.

In this condition, when uncomplicated, the nurse will be called upon to enforce exercise and regulate diet. Patients with hardening of the arteries often suffer from a sense of fatigue that is false, in that it does not bear its true relationship to exercise. Thus, a tired patient of this character when urged or compelled to walk a few blocks feels rested and is willing to go on. After walking a while, the fatigue returns ; and this time it is a true fatigue and is beneficial in relaxing hardened arteries. Each day, the nurse will have to struggle with this sense of fatigue and urge exercise.

The diet must be regulated by the physician, but the nurse's greatest task will be in restricting the use of heavy food in those whose blood has been found to be thick, owing to the presence of an unusual number of red blood corpuscles, and also in preventing the abuse of stimulants of all kinds. It is easier to keep down the total amount of food when frequent small meals are given than when prolonged starvation is followed by a large meal. At any rate, something eaten between meals has a strong tendency to check the appetite.

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