Hardening of the Arteries
Hardening of the Arteries Overview
Hardening of the arteries (arthrosclerosis) is a disorder in which arteries
(blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to other parts of
the body) become narrowed because fat (cholesterol deposits called
atherosclerosis) is first deposited on the inside walls of the arteries, then
becomes hardened by fibrous tissue and calcification (arteriosclerosis). As this plaque grows, it narrows
the lumen of the artery (the space in
the artery tubes), thereby reducing both the oxygen and blood supply to the
affected organ (like the heart, eyes, kidney, legs, gut, or the brain). The plaque may eventually severely block the artery,
causing death of the tissue supplied by the artery, for example,
heart attack or stroke.
When the arteries of the heart (coronary arteries) are affected by
arteriosclerosis, the person can develop angina, heart attack,
congestive heart failure, or abnormal cardiac rhythms (because of coronary artery disease). When the arteries of the brain (cerebral arteries) are affected by arteriosclerosis,
the person can develop a threatened stroke, called transient ischemic attack, or
actual death of brain tissue, called stroke.
Hardening of the arteries is a progressive condition that may begin in
childhood. Fatty streaks can develop in the aorta (the largest
supplying blood to both the upper and lower part of the body) shortly after
birth. In those people with familial history of high cholesterol, the condition
may worsen rapidly in the early 20s and progressively become more severe in the
40s and 50s.
In the United States, approximately 1.5 million heart attacks occur annually,
and more than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed as having coronary artery
disease. According to the American Heart Association 2004 Heart and Stroke
Statistical Update, arteriosclerosis accounts for nearly 75% of all deaths from
In persons older than 50 years, 30% also have some evidence of carotid artery (artery
in the neck supplying blood to the brain) disease. Cerebrovascular
disease is responsible for over 200,000 deaths per year in the United States.
The incidence of coronary heart disease in the Far East is significantly
lower than in the West. Possible genetic reasons for this difference are not
clearly defined. However, the role of the Western diet, lack of exercise,
obesity, and other environmental factors may be responsible contributory factors
for the differences.
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