Atherosclerosis, sometimes referred to as hardening of the arteries, is a gradual process in which cholesterol and scar tissue accumulate to form a fatty deposit or plaque that clogs the blood vessels. Atherosclerosis results in diminished blood flow to an affected organ.

If you smoke or have diabetes, you have an especially high risk for atherosclerosis and development of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Other risk factors include high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Atherosclerosis is a systemic problem that can affect multiple organs and manifest itself in a variety of ways.

Symptoms depend on which arteries are involved. For instance, if the arteries to the legs are involved, patients experience leg cramps and calf pain while walking (intermittent claudication). If the arteries in the neck develop blockages, patients are at risk of stroke. If the arteries to the kidneys are involved, patient can develop uncontrolled hypertension and kidney insufficiency. If the narrowing occurs in the arteries that feed the intestines, patients develop severe abdominal pain after eating.