Arteriosclerosis is a general term for a condition characterized by a thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the blood vessel walls, which results in decreased blood flow. One kind of arteriosclerosis is atherosclerosis, which is caused by the accumulation of fatty deposits inside the blood vessel walls.
Arteriosclerosis proceeds slowly. At first lesions form on the arterial walls, resulting in blistering and the accumulation of cholesterol. This produces high blood pressure, which in turn promotes the embedding of more cholesterol and calcium in the vessel walls. The accumulated material eventually hardens into plaque, which makes the vessel walls rigid and thick; this causes the passageways to narrow, decreasing blood supply. It's a vicious cycle.
Arteriosclerosis risk factors include hypertension, consumption of saturated fats, cigarette smoking, and obesity, though the ability of the body to process cholesterol-containing lipids (fats) is affected by genetics as well. Doctors generally recommend a combination of cholesterol-lowering drugs and a reduced fat diet to combat arteriosclerosis. Besides foregoing chips and butter tarts, fat in the diet can be reduced by replacing animal fats (in meat and butter, for example) with vegetable fats, particularly olive oil. The exception is artificially hydrogenated oils found in margarine and shortening, which have been linked to heart disease. (Translation: don't eat margarine and shortening.) Increasing dietary fibre, lowering the blood pressure, stress management, quittign smoking, and exercise will all help as well.
In extreme cases, or when being treated by a zealous surgeon, surgical treatment that bypasses clogged areas or procedures such as angioplasty are sometimes recommended. As with all matters medical, a prudent consumer will seek a second opinion before embarking on a voyage of invasive medical procedures.