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What goes wrong with the vascular system?

Although all arteries become more rigid with age, some people develop the disease "atherosclerosis" or "hardening of the arteries".

The mechanisms by which atherosclerosis develops are not known, but we do know that some people are prone to developing it. There may be a genetic predisposition in these people. We also know other factors that can result in atherosclerosis. Among these, smoking is the worst culprit, along with high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

Atherosclerosis results in the narrowing of blood vessels and can eventually block them. These narrowings and blockages reduce the amount of blood that can pass through the arteries into the tissues and organs of the body. The affected parts are then unable to work efficiently and, if called upon to do extra work, may result in symptoms. A common example is cramp-like pain in the legs when walking. The narrowed arteries of the legs are unable to provide enough blood and oxygen for the muscles to work properly during exercise. The muscles therefore start to hurt. At rest, however, less oxygen is required and there is enough blood supply for the muscles to work normally. This is called intermittent claudication. The equivalent process in the heart is called angina.

A different problem with the vascular system is caused by the weakening of the wall in the artery. This results in the artery increasing in size, resulting in an aneurysm. Aneurysms may rupture when they reach a certain size so it is recommended that they are repaired.

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