The importance of fully functional blood flow in preserving our health is obvious. Unreliable microcirculation at one location impairs the substance exchange between blood and tissue there. This means the surrounding cells may not be sufficiently supplied with oxygen and nutrients and that products of metabolism and degradation are not being removed. This affects the function and performance of these body cells and the organ systems they are part of. It is therefore justified to state that the functional status of an organ system is determined to a large extent by the functional status of its microcirculation.
Several factors can affect our blood circulation. The condition of the blood vessels plays a crucial role. Ideally, the vessels are free of deposits, flexible and elastic. In many persons, however, pathological or aging processes have resulted in deposition of so-called plaques on the interior walls of the vessels. This leads to a gradual hardening and narrowing of the vessels. The medical term for this arterial calcification is arteriosclerosis.
The main risk factors for arteriosclerosis are poor diet and lack of exercise, overweight, smoking, high blood pressure and stress. Because lifestyle is a major contributor to its development, arteriosclerosis is known as a so-called diseases of civilization. Another factor is age. From about the age of 40, the blood vessels begin to show signs of deterioration. The tissue becomes hard and brittle. Arteriosclerosis is observed in almost all elderly persons.
Angiopathy is the general medical term for vascular diseases. It usually refers to damage to the arteries and arterioles. If the smallest blood vessels, arterioles and capillaries, are affected, one speaks of a microangiopathy, whereas damage to the larger arteries constitute a macroangiopathy. Arteriosclerosis is the most frequent cause of angiopathy.
Many other diseases, e.g. metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus, fat metabolism disorders, cardiovascular and vascular disorders, may result in vascular damage and thus in circulatory disorders in the smallest vessels. In addition, such impairments can also occur as a side effect of treatments with medical drugs.
Impairment of the microcirculation makes us particularly susceptible to diseases and infections and slows recovery.
We are repeatedly warned of the effects of arteriosclerosis and circulatory disorders in the larger vessels: the threat of heart attacks and strokes. However, we are for the most part far less well informed regarding the effects of impaired blood flow in the smallest blood vessels. It therefore never occurs to many patients that their symptoms and physical impairments might be due to microcirculatory disorders.
The relevant changes are gradual and often remain unnoticed for a long period of time. The initial symptoms are listlessness and lack of drive due to insufficient energy supply to the cells. The muscles do not regenerate as quickly following physical exertion and the immune system is weakened, increasing susceptibility to certain diseases and slowing down the healing process. Finally, impaired microcirculation can lead to acute and chronic diseases and loss of function of the affected tissues and organs.
The chapter "Diseases and problems" explains the relationships between impaired microcirculation and specific clinical pictures as well as the relevant therapeutic approaches.
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