Arteriosclerosis (AR-teer-e-o-sklah-RO-sis) and atherosclerosis (ATH-er-Oskle-RO-sis) are disorders of the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart, brain, and other parts of the body.
Arteriosclerosis is a chronic condition associated with aging in which the arterial wall loses elasticity, thickens, calcifies (hardens), and becomes more rigid, causing increased resistance to blood flow through the vessel. It is the most common chronic arterial disorder.
Atherosclerosis is sometimes referred to as clogged arteries. It contributes to the number one killer of men and women in the United States, which is coronary artery disease. Atherosclerosis is a form of arteriosclerosis in which plaque (PLAK) builds up in the arteries. Plaque is a deposit made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. Over time, the increasing development of these deposits causes narrowing of the arteries, leading to a decreased supply of oxygenated blood to the body.
Atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the body, including the arteries of the heart, brain, kidneys, and the peripheral arteries in the arms, hands, legs, and feet.
Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the United States. Arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are associated with the development of heart disease. The risk of arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis increases with age, especially for people with a family history of high cholesterol * , hypertension, and heart disease. Studies have shown an increased number of children and youth at risk because of the increased rate of childhood obesity in the United States.
People at risk are those:
Signs and symptoms of arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis depend on the specific part of the cardiovascular system affected:
Doctors diagnose arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis by checking blood pressure to determine whether the person has hypertension; examining blood samples for serum (blood) cholesterol levels, specifically looking at the total serum cholesterol level, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) sometimes called “bad cholesterol,” and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) sometimes called “good cholesterol”; and through diagnostic studies specific to associated disease, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) for heart disease.
See also Heart Attack • Heart Disease: Overview • Hypertension • Peripheral Vascular Disease • Stroke • Tobacco-Related Diseases: Overview • Vascular Diseases: Overview
Kennedy, John M. The Heart Health Bible. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2014.
Wang, Hong, and Cam Patterson, editors. Atherosclerosis: Risks, Mechanisms, and Therapies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.
American Heart Association. “Atherosclerosis.” http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/WhyCholesterolMatters/Atherosclerosis_UCM_305564_Article.jsp (accessed March 21, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heart Disease.” http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease (accessed March 21, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Men and Heart Disease Fact Sheet.” http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_men_heart.htm (accessed March 21, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet.” http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_women_heart.htm (accessed March 21, 2016).
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “What Is Atherosclerosis?” http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atherosclerosis (accessed March 21, 2016).
Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Heart Disease Fact Sheet.” http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/heart-disease.html (accessed March 21, 2016).
American Heart Association. 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX 75231. Toll-free: 800-242-8721. Website: http://www.heart.org (accessed March 21, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30329-4027. Telephone: 404-639-3311. Website: www.cdc.gov (accessed March 21, 2016).
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NHLBI Health Information Center, PO Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. Telephone: 301-592-8573. Website: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov (accessed March 21, 2016).
* cholesterol (ko-LES-ter-ol) is a fatlike substance found in the blood and body tissues.
* diabetes (dye-uh-BEE-teez) is a condition in which the body's pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin it makes effectively, resulting in increased levels of sugar in the blood.
* obesity (o-BEE-si-tee) is an excess of body fat. People are considered obese if they weigh more than 30 percent above what is healthy for their height.
* trans fat is a fat derived from the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils, also known as fatty acid.
* genetic (jeh-NEH-tik) refers to heredity and the ways in which genes control the development and maintenance of organisms.