Medical science, or science in general, is hardly understandable for commoners. The last decade, the internet has provided us with comprehensible medical information. Although Google likes to overreact sometimes. I love you Google, but you cannot say that I have cancer, diabetes and a stroke and that I was going to die yesterday when I was just looking for symptoms of fever.
Knowledge is your greatest weapon and in the following weeks, I will simplistically summarize typical (pre-)diseases to expand your knowledge so you can help yourself and our Muslim community. First up, atherosclerosis!
When I walk through the streets, I notice the unhealthy life state of our Muslim community, and especially the older generation. The combination of our super-delicious cuisine and the lack of exercise makes our community more vulnerable to life-threatening diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, which are often the result of atherosclerosis.
What is atherosclerosis?
Before I start explaining atherosclerosis, we need to start with the basics. The heart pumps the blood, which contains oxygen, to the rest of the body. The blood travels through tunnel-like highways or arteries to reach its destination. This highway/artery is not only filled with blood, but also with other stuffs like glucose (sugar) and cholesterol. The first layer on the tunnel-like highway is called the endothelium. The endothelium has a lot of important functions and it can get damaged by various factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high glucose. A form of cholesterol, which is called the bad cholesterol or LDL, goes through the cracks of the highway and it resides in the walls of the highway. The bad cholesterol releases signals which are picked up by the body. The body senses the presence of something that should not be there and it starts recruiting the body-soldiers, which are called the white blood cells. The absorption of that bad cholesterol by the soldiers creates sponge-like materials which fuse with each other and form a plaque. A plaque is like the crust that covers the wound on your skin. The continuous invasion of bad cholesterol and the absorption by the soldiers makes the plaque bigger and harder and it will narrow the artery. When it gets big enough, the hardened plaque becomes unstable. This will result into the rupture of the plaque, which will create a blockage of the blood flow. The process of plaque creation until the blockage of the highway is called atherosclerosis (figure 1).
Due to the blockage of the blood flow, the cells, the basic structure of our body, will not receive oxygen. Do you know what happens when the cells in your body are deprived of oxygen? They will die. For example, if a blockage occurs in the highways to the heart -the heart needs oxygen to work too- then you will get a heart attack. If it happens in the highways in the brain regions, then you will have a stroke with the potential of permanent brain damage. Severe damage of the arteries in the arm- or leg regions can lead to amputation.
When does atherosclerosis development start?
The problem with atherosclerosis is the lack of symptoms. You can experience the symptoms when the plaque is too big and too unstable. The plaque starts developing at a young age and it could last decades before you experience any pain. Thus, atherosclerosis is found more frequently in older generation.
Prevention of atherosclerosis
Call Dr. House! Drink zamzam water*!! Just joking.
Development of plaque can be halted by avoiding the following risk factors: smoking, eating fatty food, high blood pressure, eating sugary food, stress and not exercising regularly. So ladies and gentlemen, put the chocolates, chips, sodas and your mother’s favorite cake away and exercise regularly to keep the body in healthy shape and also to prevent the development of life-threatening diseases. Also, encourage your (grand)parents to eat healthy and to exercise daily. They are the most vulnerable population to this disease.
For more information, visit the excellent website: www.webmd.com/heart-disease/what-is-atherosclerosis
* According to Islamic belief, it is a miraculously-generated source of water from Allah (May he be glorified and exalted ), which began thousands of years ago when prophet Ibrahim’s (pbuh) second wife Hajar looked for water when her son prophet Ismaiel (pbuh) was thirsty and kept crying for water.