Atherosclerosis -- hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- gets a lot of bad press but with good reason. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk.
Atherosclerosis is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease -- what together are called "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in America, with more than 800,000 deaths in 2005.
How does atherosclerosis develop? Who gets it, and...
Plaques grow slowly and blood flow is preserved for years, so atherosclerosis causes no early symptoms. "When symptoms finally do occur, the blockages are severe and usually irreversible," explains Silverman.
Diseases Caused by Atherosclerosis: Beyond the Heart
The entire body is dependent on arteries for oxygenated blood. "Because arteries everywhere can be affected, there is no organ system atherosclerosis can't reach," says Lori Mosca, MD, MPH, PhD, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. "And atherosclerosis, when present, is usually widespread."
Take this short trip through the arteries of the body to consider the less well-known complications of atherosclerosis.
Arteries carry blood to the kidneys, where our entire blood volume is filtered more than 30 times a day. If atherosclerosis slows the flow, chronic kidney disease can result. This can eventually lead to end-stage renal disease, or total kidney failure requiring dialysis.