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 problems throughout the body.
Hardening of the arteries is a process that often occurs with aging. As you grow older, 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.This is a common cause of heart attack and stroke.
High blood cholesterol levels can cause hardening of the arteries at a younger age. For many people, high cholesterol levels are the result of an unhealthy lifestyle -- most commonly, eating a diet that is high in fat.
Other risk factors are heavy alcohol use, lack of exercise, and being overweight. Other risk factors for hardening of the arteries are:
Hardening of the arteries does not cause symptoms until blood flow to part of the body becomes slowed or blocked. If the arteries to the heart become narrow, blood flow to the heart can slow down or stop. This can cause chest pain (stable angina), shortness of breath, and other symptoms.
Narrowed or blocked arteries may also cause problems and symptoms in your intestines, kidneys, legs, and brain.