Arteriosclerosis isn't just found in the heart The hardening of arteries can result in stroke, high blood pressure and even aneurysms. Q: What is arteriosclerosis? A: Arteriosclerosis is hardening of the arteries, the blood vessels that take blood away from the heart. It refers to a group of disorders that are characterized by thickening and loss of elasticity of arterial walls. Q: How are arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis related? A: Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis caused by a build-up of plaque in the inner lining of an artery. Plaque is made up of deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin. Atherosclerosis develops in medium or large arteries. Atherosclerosis is the most common disease affecting the vascular system. Q: What causes arteriosclerosis? A: It is unknown exactly how arteriosclerosis begins or what causes it. It may have multiple causes. It is widely believed that injury to the lining of the artery may start the process that leads to arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis. Q: Does arteriosclerosis only affect arteries in the heart? A: No, it can also occur in the carotid arteries in the neck and in the arteries to the kidneys, intestines, arms and legs. Arteriosclerosis of the arms and legs is known as peripheral vascular disease or peripheral artery disease. Q: What do symptoms include, and when do they become noticeable? A: Symptoms depend upon the vessels affected and the extent to which the vessels are diseased. Most symptoms are related to decreased blood flow due to narrowing of the vessel or from a clot forming within the vessel. For example, atherosclerosis involving the carotid arteries can cause a mini stroke or stroke. Of course, atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries can lead to a heart attack. The symptoms from atherosclerosis involving the leg arteries can range from leg pain with exercise to sores on the legs and feet that won't heal, to even a complete lack of blood flow to the legs that might result in amputation. Atherosclerosis of the arteries to the kidneys can sometimes contribute to high blood pressure and/or decreased kidney function. Atherosclerosis is also associated with the formation of aneurysms, which are dilated blood vessels. Dilated blood vessels can burst and cause severe bleeding, which can be fatal. When symptoms will be noticeable varies greatly from person to person. It can take many years for patients to become symptomatic. Q: What are risk factors? A: Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels; high blood pressure; smoking; type 1 diabetes; obesity; physical inactivity; age; being male; and family history. Q: What is a bruit, and can one help detect arteriosclerosis? A: A bruit is an abnormal sound heard with a stethoscope placed over the neck or abdomen. A bruit can indicate the presence of underlying atherosclerosis, usually in the carotid artery, abdominal aorta or arteries to the kidneys. Q: What are the benefits of early diagnosis? A: Early diagnosis allows for early treatment and prevention of more serious problems associated with the disease. Q: What treatment options are available? A: Treatment for early or mild atherosclerosis may simply be modifying risk factors by losing weight, stopping smoking, exercising, controlling diabetes and high blood pressure and eating a low-fat diet. Sometimes medications are prescribed. More advanced disease may require endovascular procedures, such as angioplasty, stent placement or atherectomy, which is a process used to shave plaque from the inside of the artery. Surgeries, such as bypasses or endarterectomies, the surgical removal of plaque, may be necessary. Ultimately, atherosclerosis affecting the extremities can result in amputation. Q: If arteriosclerosis is left untreated, what can happen? A: Depending which arteries are involved, untreated arteriosclerosis can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, increased leg pain with exercise or sores on the feet that won't heal and amputation. Q: Is it true that arteriosclerosis can cause erectile dysfunction in men? A: Yes, by restricting blood flow to the pelvis. Q: What lifestyle changes can be made to prevent or slow the progression? A: Exercise and a proper diet are important for everyone. Patients who smoke must stop.