Arteriosclerosis is a disease of arteries in which the wall becomes thickened and rigid, and blood flow is hindered. Atherosclerosis is the formation of fatty deposits (containing cholesterol) in the inner lining of an artery, followed by scarring and calcification. It is commoner in older age groups, but in diabetes, disorders of fat metabolism, and high-blood pressure, its appearance may be earlier. Excess saturated fats in the blood may play a role in its formation.
A rare form of arteriosclerosis, called medial sclerosis, is caused by degeneration and calcification of the middle muscle layer of the artery. Narrowing or obstruction of cerebral arteries may lead to stroke, while that of coronary arteries causes angina pectoris and heart attack (coronary thrombosis or myocardial infarction). Reduced blood flow to the limbs may cause cramp on exertion, ulcers, and gangrene.
Established arteriosclerosis cannot be reversed, but a low fat diet, exercise, and the avoidance of smoking help in prevention. Surgery by artery replacement or removal of deposits is occasionally indicated.