Arteriosclerosis was the disease that caused the most deaths and disability in the developed world in the 20th century, and it appears that it will maintain its No. 1. spot in the first decade of the 21st century. Circulatory (brain and heart) diseases rank at the top of the list in the mortality statistics in high- and middle-income countries, outranking cancer. In Europe in the second half of the 1990s, the Hungarian, Finnish, Czech and Irish topped the list in heart attacks. In those countries, the risk factors (obesity, smoking, stress, etc.) are too common, and the instance of high blood pressure is also prominent.
Arteriosclerosis is a progressive and degenerative condition, which affects the body’s arteries, through the blood supply (nourishment and oxygen supply) that is crucial to their functioning – a systemic disease affecting all organs. Disruption of blood supply to crucial organs can lead to death or a serious decrease in quality of life. The clinical manifestation of circulatory disruption caused by atherosclerosis varies among individuals: heart attack, stroke, narrowing of the arteries in the limbs are the best-known and most common ways in which it appears. Their importance is enormous for both the individual (tragedy, loss of quality of life) and for society (decrease in employment capacity, disability payments).
At the onset of the disease, early biochemical alterations are followed by the deterioration and narrowing of the arterial wall. This is accompanied by oxidative, inflammatory processes. Sudden stress or an increase in blood pressure leads to the rupture of the altered surface – in effect, a wound inside the artery. As a result of coagulation in the arterial pathway, complete blockage, or thrombosis, occurs. When the tissue behind the supplying artery (brain, heart tissue, etc.) dies, the stroke or the heart attack occurs.