About This Condition
Atherosclerosis is hardening of the arteries, a common disease of the major blood vessels characterized by fatty streaks along the vessel walls and by deposits of cholesterol and calcium.
Atherosclerosis of arteries supplying blood to the heart is called coronary artery disease, and it can restrict the flow of blood to the heart, possibly triggering a heart attack. Atherosclerosis of arteries supplying the legs causes a condition called intermittent claudication, which is characterized by pain in the legs after walking short distances.
People with elevated cholesterol levels are much more likely to have atherosclerosis than people with low cholesterol levels. Many important nutritional approaches to protecting against atherosclerosis are aimed at lowering serum cholesterol levels.
Atherosclerosis is typically a silent disease until one of the many late-stage vascular manifestations intervenes. Some people with atherosclerosis may experience angina (chest pain) or intermittent claudication (leg cramps and pain) on exertion. Symptoms such as these develop gradually as the disease progresses.
Prevention is still the best treatment for atherosclerosis, which may be supported by drugs used to prevent high cholesterol, triglyceride, homosysteine, and blood glucose levels. Once established, treatment is directed toward the various complications, such as angina, heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and peripheral vascular disease.