Hardening of the arteries, also called atherosclerosis, is a common disorder. It occurs when fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques.
Over time, these plaques can block the arteries and cause symptoms and problems throughout the body.
Atherosclerosis; Arteriosclerosis; Plaque buildup - arteries
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Over the course of years and decades, plaque buildup narrows your arteries and makes them stiffer. These changes make it harder for blood to flow through them.
Clots may form in these narrowed arteries and block blood flow. Pieces of plaque can also break off and move to smaller blood vessels, blocking them.
Either way, the blockage starves tissues of blood and oxygen, which can result in damage or tissue death (
In some cases, the plaque is part of a process that causes a weakening of the wall of an artery. This can lead to an
Hardening of the arteries is a process that often occurs with aging. However, high blood cholesterol levels can make this process happen at a younger age.
For most people, high cholesterol levels are the result of an unhealthy lifestyle -- most commonly, eating a diet that is
Other risk factors for hardening of the arteries are:
- Family history of hardening of the arteries
- High blood pressure
Review Date: 05/20/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.