What happens to arteries as we age?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
While most of us think of heart attacks and strokes when we think of arterial aging, these are just the most dramatic results, by which time a person's arteries have been severely damaged. That is, the person has gotten old (often as a result of certain lifestyle choices).

Imagine your arteries as being like the streets in a city. We use the streets of a city to get from place to place. Similarly, your blood uses the arteries as a means to get from one place to another. It uses vessels to carry nutrients and oxygen to the cells and then carry carbon dioxide and other by-products of metabolism away from the cells. But the arteries, just like streets and highways, eventually wear down. They become clogged with fatty buildup, called plaque, or narrowed from swelling and inflammation. The arteries also develop "potholes." That's what inflammation really does: It causes swelling and erosions, "potholes" where plaque can insert itself into the arteries. Clots can then form in the potholes. Clots can grow, break off, and be carried away by blood flow into the small arteries of the heart or brain, or to the arteries to the gonads, kidneys, or any other vital organ. The older and more congested arteries get, the more subject they are to the body's version of traffic jams, blood clots. Just as a traffic jam can affect a part of the city or the entire city, so can congested arteries affect one organ or the entire body. When arteries are congested, the cells do not get the nutrients they need and can suffer from a buildup of metabolic by-products.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.