Cross-section of artery showing atherosclerosis
What is arterial stiffness?
Arterial stiffness is a general term for the elasticity (or compliance) of the arteries. The hardening or stiffening of the arteries is called arteriosclerosis. The stiffness of arteries influences how hard the heart has to work to pump blood through the body.
Why is arterial stiffness important?
Various measures of arterial stiffness in the large arteries have been shown to predict the likelihood of future cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, which may lead to death. In addition, these measures of arterial stiffness have been shown to be better predictors than other commonly measured parameters such as upper arm blood pressure.
How can large artery stiffness be measured?
There are several ways of measuring large artery stiffness, including:
- Augmentation index, which uses the shape of the pulse wave to provide measures of arterial stiffness. Pulse wave analysis can be carried out on waveforms measured non-invasively.
- Central blood pressure, which is the pressure that the heart acts against. Central blood pressure tends to increase with higher arterial stiffness.
- Pulse Wave Velocity, which is estimated by measuring the time it take for a pressure pulse to travel between two points in the arterial system, usually the carotid artery (neck) and femoral artery (groin), and estimating the length of the artery between these two points.
- Carotid, intima-media thickness, which is measured using an ultrasound scan to gauge the thickness of the inner distance of the wall of the carotid artery.
How does BP+ measure arterial stiffness?
BP+ technology allows quick, easy and accurate measurement of augmentation index and central blood pressure; both recognized indicators of large artery stiffness.
What about the stiffness of the small arteries?
The stiffness of small arteries has been related to other types of disease such as diabetes, but is not strongly associated with cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes.
How is arterial stiffness related to blood pressure?
Blood pressure is a symptom of underlying processes. The strength of each heart beat contributes to blood pressure. The resistance to the blood flow provided by the arteries is also an important determinant of blood pressure.
When the large arteries are stiff, resistance is greater and blood pressure increases. Conversely, when arteries are compliant and reactive, the heart does not need to work so hard to deliver blood to the rest of the body.
What can be done about high arterial stiffness?
There are many ways to reduce arterial stiffness.
- Consistent exercise will help to prevent arteries from becoming stiffer, and can help to increase compliance of stiff arteries.
- Some (but not all) types of drugs used to treat high-blood pressure reduce arterial stiffness by relaxing the muscles in the wall of the artery.
- New drugs are in development that may be able to undo the long-term damage that causes stiff arteries.
- Consult with a doctor about the best treatment options and lifestyle changes available