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arteriosclerosis(ärtĭr'ēōsklərō`sis), general term for a condition characterized by thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the walls of the blood vessels. These changes are frequently accompanied by accumulations inside the vessel walls of lipids, e.g., cholesterol; this condition is frequently referred to as atherosclerosis. Initially lesions are formed on the arterial walls, which results in blistering and the accumulation of low-density cholesterol. This produces higher blood pressure, which facilitates the imbedding of cholesterol and calcium in the vessel walls. The fatty material accumulates calcium and produces hard plaques, thus hardening the walls of the vessels. As the vessel walls thicken, the passageways through the vessels narrow, decreasing the blood supply to the affected region. Constriction of the coronary arteries may affect the heart (see coronary artery diseasecoronary artery disease,
condition that results when the coronary arteries are narrowed or occluded, most commonly by atherosclerotic deposits of fibrous and fatty tissue. Coronary artery disease is the most common underlying cause of cardiovascular disability and death.
..... Click the link for more information. , heart diseaseheart disease,
any of several abnormalities of the heart and its function in maintaining blood circulation. Heart disease is the cause of approximately half the deaths in the United States each year.
..... Click the link for more information. ). If the leg vessels are affected, there may be pain with walking and an onset of gangrene. When there is total clotting of a vessel (thrombosisthrombosis
, obstruction of an artery or vein by a blood clot (thrombus). Arterial thrombosis is generally more serious because the supply of oxygen and nutrition to an area of the body is halted.
..... Click the link for more information. ) the result may be a heart attack (if it occurs in the coronary arteries) or strokestroke,
destruction of brain tissue as a result of intracerebral hemorrhage or infarction caused by thrombosis (clotting) or embolus (obstruction in a blood vessel caused by clotted blood or other foreign matter circulating in the bloodstream); formerly called apoplexy.
..... Click the link for more information. (if in cerebral arteries).
Arteriosclerosis risk factors include hypertensionhypertension
or high blood pressure,
elevated blood pressure resulting from an increase in the amount of blood pumped by the heart or from increased resistance to the flow of blood through the small arterial blood vessels (arterioles).
..... Click the link for more information. , elevated levels of fats in the blood, cigarette smoking, diabetes mellitus, and obesity. Genetic risks are related to the ability of the body to process (uptake and metabolize) low-density lipids that contain cholesterol. Reduction of body cholesterol to normal levels through cholesterol-lowering drugs and a restricted-fat diet is usually prescribed. The latter generally entails substitution of vegetable fats for animal fats, but an exception may be "trans fat," artificially hydrogenated vegetable oils found in margarine and vegetable shortening, which studies have linked to increased risk of coronary disease. Treatment of hypertension, stress management, and cessation of smoking are also important. Increasing consumption of antioxidants and folic acid may be protective. Surgical treatment that bypasses clogged areas or procedures such as angioplastyangioplasty
, any surgical repair of a blood vessel, especially balloon angioplasty or percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty, a treatment of coronary artery disease.
..... Click the link for more information. are sometimes necessary; gene therapy that forces the growth of new blood vessels bypassing an area has also been used. Exercise often can increase utilization of excess low-density lipids. Although the relationship between blood cholesterol levels and arteriosclerosis is not fully understood, the utilization of low-density lipids appears to be a primary indicator of the risk of arteriosclerosis.