Causes and Risk Factors

The causes and risk factors that lead to arteriosclerosis are varied. In addition to genetics, lifestyle is one of the influencing factors. Learn more about narrowing of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) and what you can do for your own health.

What is arteriosclerosis?

The coronary arteries supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. In arteriosclerosis, these arteries are narrowed or blocked by deposits of fat and calcium called plaques. Arteriosclerosis can be caused by a number of different factors.
Depending on how many vessels are affected by deposits, the severity can range from single vessel disease up to 3-vessel disease, if the three largest branches of the coronary arteries are narrowed. Narrowed coronary arteries mean that the heart muscle is not supplied with enough oxygen-rich blood and loses its ability to pump.


Multi-vessel disease

In multi-vessel disease, the heart muscle is supplied with a poor quantity of oxygen-rich blood in several areas. The more vessels that are blocked, the greater the risk of suffering a serious heart attack. At the same time, there is an increased risk of damage to the heart muscle during a cardiac catheterisation procedure. This is because a heart with multiple blocked vessels has little capacity to compensate for the strain during surgery. Patients with multi-vessel disease are often classified as high-risk. For these patients, the support of a heart pump during cardiac catheterisation can be beneficial.

Causes of arteriosclerosis

Two types of risk factors can lead to arteriosclerosis:

  • Risk factors arising from lifestyle aspects and due to other diseases
  • Fortunately, lifestyle can be changed and the risk of arteriosclerosis can be reduced.

Smoking tobacco is a significant cause of arteriosclerosis

Smoking has the greatest impact in terms of plaque formation in blood vessels. The German Medical Association has even described quitting smoking as "the single most important treatment measure for patients with vascular diseases". In other words: No other measure is better for your heart than permanently eliminating cigarettes from your daily life. A suitable programme should meet your personal needs and be easy to integrate into your everyday life.

Nutrition and exercise

In addition to smoking, an unhealthy diet combined with a lack of exercise and being overweight are among the risk factors. The combination of an unhealthy diet and too little exercise often leads to obesity and undesirable levels of fat in the blood. A healthy diet is particularly useful in preventing heart disease even before arteriosclerosis occurs.

How do I eat a heart-healthy diet?

An unhealthy diet and obesity are among the causes of arteriosclerosis.

However, you can prevent this disease by following a good diet: a heart-healthy diet is high in fibre and includes plenty of fruit and vegetables. Frozen products are also suitable as an alternative to fresh vegetables, as the nutrients are retained in the freezing process. Make sure all foods that you eat are low in salt and have a good ratio of fatty acids.

Healthy Fats

Fish, olive oil and other vegetable oils contain healthy polyunsaturated fats. Meat and dairy products are high in the less healthy, saturated fats. This does not mean that you have to give up certain foods completely, but preference should be given to heart-healthy meals.

There are plenty of helpful resources for healthy eating on the internet. Your doctor can arrange training sessions to teach you about suitable nutrition following a practical approach. A healthy lifestyle is always worthwhile - not only for heart patients. Start with small changes to your everyday life and make the transition as easy as possible.

Which diseases damage the heart?

In addition to the aforementioned causes of arteriosclerosis, certain diseases damage the heart. Persistently high blood pressure means that the heart’s pumping function always has to work against high resistance. This damages the heart muscle in the long run. Reasons for an increase in blood pressure can include kidney disease and kidney failure, or diabetes.
In the latter case, high blood sugar levels also damage the blood vessels in the long term. Treating these chronic diseases not only alleviates the disease itself, but also reduces the risk of heart disease. You should therefore always strictly adhere to treatment as recommended by your doctor, for example, by taking blood pressure-lowering medication. In the article on aftercare following heart surgery, you will find practical tips on taking your medication regularly.