Skip to content

    Heart Disease Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Hardened Arteries: It's About More Than Heart Disease

    Other conditions raise your risk for hardened arteries, also called atherosclerosis.
    By
    WebMD Magazine - Feature
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Lots of people worry about atherosclerosis -- or hardening of the arteries -- as a factor in heart disease and stroke. But did you know that diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity are all major risk factors for atherosclerosis?

    Take the case of Barbie Perkins-Cooper, 57, a writer from Mount Pleasant, S.C. When she discovered that she had type 2 diabetes, she also discovered that she was at risk for atherosclerosis. What's worse: her high cholesterol levels, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle put her at even greater risk.

    Recommended Related to Heart Disease

    Acute Myocardial Infarcation (Heart Attack) Patient Education Center

    Visit WebMD's Heart Disease Health Center Newly Diagnosed? Find out more Heart Attack: Get Information From the Cleveland Clinic Cardiac Rehabilitation: Get Information From the Cleveland Clinic Looking for Clinical Trials? Check here Cholesterol Facts Test Your Heart Attack Knowledge Reach Out: Heart Disease ...

    Read the Acute Myocardial Infarcation (Heart Attack) Patient Education Center article > >

    Perkins-Cooper is hardly alone. Many people who are eventually diagnosed with atherosclerosis have at least one of these other problems. And that's not all. Once you develop atherosclerosis, each of these conditions can worsen the damage to your arteries. Here's how:

    Diabetes. People with diabetes tend to develop atherosclerosis earlier and more extensively than those without the disease. In fact, people with diabetes -- especially women -- are two to six times more likely to get atherosclerosis. Patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes can also develop the disease in small blood vessels, such as those in the eyes and kidneys.

    Diabetes is a major predictor of how well patients fare with atherosclerosis and heart disease. "Once you have a heart attack, for example, you're going to do a lot worse than if you don't have diabetes," says Sam Tsimikas, MD, professor of clinical medicine and director of vascular medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

    High LDL cholesterol. High levels of LDL, the bad kind of cholesterol, promote plaque formation in artery linings -- the signature symptom of atherosclerosis. Too much LDL can worsen atherosclerosis and increase the chance of heart disease. "It is a major risk factor," Tsimikas says. "The higher the LDL, the more likely you are to get a heart attack. The lower the LDL, the more likely you are not to get one."

    High blood pressure. This condition is associated with inflammation and increased damage to the lining of the vessels because they're under higher pressure, Tsimikas says. A vessel is like a garden hose, he says. "If it's always under high pressure, eventually, it's going to get damaged. If there are other risk factors -- diabetes and high cholesterol circulating in that pipe -- eventually, all of that is going to clog it up."

    Today on WebMD

    x-ray of human heart
    A visual guide.
    atrial fibrillation
    Symptoms and causes.
     
    heart rate graph
    10 things to never do.
    heart rate
    Get the facts.
     
    empty football helmet
    Article
    red wine
    Video
     
    eating blueberries
    Article
    Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
    Slideshow
     
    Inside A Heart Attack
    SLIDESHOW
    Omega 3 Sources
    SLIDESHOW
     
    Salt Shockers
    SLIDESHOW
    lowering blood pressure
    SLIDESHOW