Learn about atherosclerosis and how to prevent it

As we get older, our arteries lose some of their elasticity and stiffen. This can lead to a progressive condition called arteriosclerosis. We'll teach you all about this illness and the best ways you can prevent it.

Learn about atherosclerosis and how to prevent it

Get the basics

  • As we age, stiffened blood vessels usually become clogged with fatty plaque, the hallmark of atherosclerosis. Some degree of arteriosclerosis is a natural part of getting older, and it usually progresses slowly over the years without producing noticeable symptoms.
  • Serious problems develop when these stiffened blood vessels become severely narrowed with plaque. Complications include circulatory disorders (especially reduced blood flow to the lower legs and other extremities); angina, the chest pains caused by inadequate oxygen to the heart muscle; and heart disease or stroke.
  • By the time Western men have reached their late forties, most have some degree of atherosclerosis. In women the process is somewhat delayed, presumably due to the protective effects of estrogen during the reproductive years. After menopause however, women quickly catch up with their male counterparts, and once in their sixties they're just as likely to develop severely clogged arteries as men are.

Understand the underlying causes

  • What precisely causes atherosclerosis is un­known. However, most experts agree that a genetic susceptibility and several life­style factors accelerate the process. These factors include a diet high in fats and cholesterol, cigarette smoking, excessive stress, and lack of exercise. Poorly controlled diabetes and high blood pressure also contribute to atherosclerosis.
  • Arteries can be narrowed by 85 percent (or more) without producing symptoms. Nevertheless, there is still a high risk of a heart attack or stroke because clots tend to form at the site of fatty deposits.
  • Most heart attacks are caused by a clot blocking a coronary artery (a coronary thrombosis). Similarly, a cerebral thrombosis (a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain) is the most common type of stroke.

Take these dietary precautions to reduce your risk

  • Researchers agree that diet plays a critical role in both the development and treatment of atherosclerosis. Cholesterol is the major component of atherosclerotic plaque, and numerous studies correlate high levels of blood cholesterol with atherosclerosis.
  • Research indicates that atherosclerosis can be slowed and even reversed by lowering cholesterol in the blood — particularly the levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), which are the "bad" type of cholesterol.

The first step to preventing arteriosclerosis is awareness. The next is making a few relatively simple lifestyle adjustments. Use this guide to reduce your risk of developing this common and dangerous condition.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
Close menu