Atherosclerosis comes from the Greek words athero (meaning gruel or paste) and sclerosis (hardness). It is the name of the process in which the deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. This build-up is called plaque; it usually affects large and medium arteries. Plaques can grow large enough to reduce the flow of blood through an artery, but most of the damage occurs when they become fragile. Plaques build blood clots that can block the flow of blood or break it off and go to another part of the body. If either a blood vessel that feeds the heart is blocked, that causes a heart attack. If a blood vessel that feeds the brain is blocked, so we are facing a stroke. If the supply of blood to the arms and legs is reduced, that can lead to gangrene.

Arteriosclerosis occurs after a period of time during which the arteries of the cardiovascular system develop hard and brittle areas. Vessels become thickened, a loss of elasticity will affect the arteries of the cardiovascular system, the brain, and kidneys upper and lower extremities, this occurs because of the deposition of calcium on their walls. Arteriosclerosis differs from atherosclerosis, which involves the build-up of fatty deposits in the inner lining of large and medium-sized arteries. Atherosclerosis often leads to coronary heart disease, strokes, and other disorders because of the occurrence of blood clots built in the narrowed arteries. The hardening of the arteries, on the other hand occurs only in advanced stages. A third form of the disease is arteriolar sclerosis which involves both the inner and medial layers of the smaller arteries in the limbs, the eyes, and other internal organs. This condition causes a decreased blood flow to these tissues which can create circulatory problems, peripheral vascular disease, impaired circulation to the eyes and kidneys causing blindness and kidney failure. Arteriosclerosis not only narrows the arteries but it also forms nodules in the arterial walls and entirely obliterate the canal of the artery.

The causes of Arteriosclerosis:
Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may begin during the early childhood. Researchers suspect that atherosclerosis starts with the damage or the injury of the inner layer of an artery. The damage may be caused by various factors, including: Abnormal blood pressure: High blood pressure directly increases the risk of coronary heart disease and Arteriosclerosis.

High cholesterol level: Low-density lipoprotein is the major cholesterol carrier in the blood. Elevated LDL levels are associated with an increased risk of coronary artery (heart) disease. When you have a high cholesterol average in the blood, it builds up on the walls of the arteries. Over time this build-up will cause the hardening of the arteries, hardening means that the arteries become narrowed and the flow of blood to the heart becomes limited. The blood carries oxygen to the heart. If the heart does not receive the quantity needed of Oxygen, you may feel chest pain. If the flow of blood supplied to certain parts of the heart is cut off, by a blockage, the result is a heart attack. When the average of cholesterol in the blood is high the patient will be facing a high risk of having heart diseases. This would make the high blood cholesterol level a risk factor. A Risk Factor is a condition that increases the risk of having a disease.
Obesity: Obesity is defined simply as too much body fat. Your body is made up of water, fat, protein, carbohydrate and various vitamins and minerals. Obesity is now recognized as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack. Some reasons for this high risk are known, but others are not. For example, obesity:

  • Raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride (tri-GLIS'er-id) levels.
  • Lowers HDL "good" cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps lowering heart diseases and stroke risk, so reducing it tends to raise the risk.
  • Raises blood pressure levels.
  • Can induce diabetes. In some cases, diabetes makes the other risk factors worse. The danger of heart attack is higher for obese persons who also suffers from diabetes Even when there are no adverse effects on the known risk factors, obesity by itself increases the risk of heart disease. It is also a major cause of gallstones.

Smoking: Cigarette and tobacco smoke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and obesity are the six major independent risk factors for coronary heart disease that you can modify or control. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by itself. When it acts with other factors, the risk will be dangerous. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypassing a surgery. Cigarette smoking is the most dangerous risk factor for young men and women. It produces a greater relative risk in persons under the age of 50. Women who smoke greatly increase their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with non-smoking women. Smoking also creates a higher risk for peripheral arterial disease and aortic aneurysm.

Physical inactivity: Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing arteriosclerosis. The arteriosclerosis is characterized by the deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the inner lining of arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. It also contributes to other risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, a low level of HDL ("good") cholesterol and diabetes. Even moderately intense physical activity such as brisk walking is beneficial when done regularly for a total of 30 minutes or longer on most days.

Signs and symptoms:
Atherosclerosis develops gradually. There are usually no signs or symptoms until an artery becomes so narrowed or clogged that it will be unable to supply adequate blood to your organs and tissues. Sometimes a blood clot completely obstructs blood flow.

The specific signs and symptoms depend on which arteries are affected. For example:

  • Heart arteries. The Obstruction of the arteries of the heart (coronary arteries) makes us feel the symptoms of heart attack, such as chest pain.
  • Arteries supplying the brain. The Obstruction of the carotid arteries in the neck makes us feel the symptoms of stroke, such as sudden numbness, weakness or dizziness.$
  • Arteries in the arms and legs. The Obstruction of the arteries supplying blood to the arms and legs makes us feel the symptoms of peripheral arterial disease, such as leg pain when walking (intermittent claudicating).

Sometimes the hardening of arteries causes erectile dysfunction to men.

How to avoid Arteriosclerosis?

  • As we have seen that arteriosclerosis is one of the major factors causing heart attacks and heart strokes. It is very important to avoid arteriosclerosis and to fight it by reducing its risk factors. You should decrease LDL bad cholesterol in your blood by following a healthy diet, so you must:
  • Avoid saturated fat and oils, such as butter, bacon drippings, lard, palm oil, and coconut oil. Palm and coconut oils are often found in processed foods. Replace these with olive oil.
  • Limit the use of fatty acids or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as those found in hard margarines, snack crackers, cookies, chips, and shortenings. Hydrogenation is a process that makes the fat solid or semisolid.
  • Limit fatty meats such as corned beef, pastrami, ribs, steak, ground meat, frankfurters, sausage, bacon, and processed meats like bologna. Limit high-cholesterol organ meats (liver and kidney) and egg yolks. Replace with skinless chicken or turkey, lean beef, veal, pork, lamb, fish, and meatless main dishes including beans, peas, pasta, or rice.
  • Limit servings of meat, poultry, and fish to 2 oz (56.7 g) to 3 oz (85.1 g) (a serving is about the size of a deck of playing cards), twice a day, or no more than 5 oz (141.8 g) per day.
  • Limit the use of milk products • Limit snack crackers, muffins, quick breads, croissants, and cakes made with extra fat, saturated or hydrogenated fat, whole eggs, or whole milk.
  • Instead of using butter or margarine on bread, try dipping it in olive oil.
  • Avoid fast foods (such as hamburgers, fries, fried chicken, and tacos), which are high in both total fat and saturated fat. When you eat out, choose broiled sandwiches or chicken without skin, salads with low-fat dressing, and foods that aren't fried. Ask the server to leave off the cheese and high-fat dressings like mayonnaise.

Controlling blood pressure: hypertension increases the risk of having arteriosclerosis and heart attacks. It is especially dangerous because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. Regardless of race, age, or gender, anyone can develop high blood pressure. A high percentage of health care practitioners now recommend nutritional and wellness lifestyle changes as the first line of defence to prevent hypertension and to treat mild to moderate High Blood Pressure.

Quit smoking: smoking cigarettes is one of the most dangerous risk factors causing arteriosclerosis and heart attacks.

Loose weight: you should maintain a healthy weight for your height. Obesity causes unfavourable changes in the serum lipoprotein levels.

Practice sports: Begin a moderate exercise program. Walking daily is a great way to start.

Currently there aren't any definitive tests or screening methods to easily detect arteriosclerosis, so many people do not know if they are affected with this disorder, so you may follow blood tests and detect if you have any of the symptoms of arteriosclerosis. You should moderate your life style in order to avoid arteriosclerosis and other heart diseases.