Stiff blood vessels

The aorta is the largest artery in the body that carries blood away from the heart to rest of the body. As this artery is closest to the heart, it experiences extremely high pressure and high volume of blood pumped from the heart. Hence, the aorta is the most elastic artery in the body. Nonetheless, the walls of aorta and other large arteries lose elasticity over time. This leads to arterial stiffness, which is characterised by gradual loss of elastin fibres in the arterial wall. This increased arterial stiffness is closely associated with increased risk of hypertension, stroke and chronic kidney disease. Besides, arterial stiffness increases the load on the heart, which has to work harder to maintain the amount of blood pumped in one contraction. Over time, this increased workload could lead to heart failure, as well as higher heart rate. Hence, reversing arterial stiffness is crucial in protecting against development of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

Risk factors of stiff blood vessels


Aging affects elastin, which is a primary component of arterial wall. With age, degradation of elastin and accumulation of stiffer collagen increase, which leads to progressive arterial stiffening.


Smoking was found to cause a significant increase in arterial stiffness in chronic smokers. Passive smoking also increases arterial stiffness.

Salt intake

Salt may impair the function of endothelium, which is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the blood vessels, and increase arterial stiffness. Hence, reducing excess salt intake is vital for overall vascular health as well as healthy blood pressure.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is not only the consequence of arterial stiffness, but is also a risk factor. Elevated blood pressure increases the pressure on artery walls, which would accelerate elastin degradation.

Complications of high blood pressure:

How to test for stiff blood vessels

Arterial stiffness occurs as a result of biological aging and atherosclerosis (plaque buildup). This condition always precedes life-threatening cardiovascular disease. Hence, it is vital to monitor arterial stiffness. Several tests are available to assess arterial stiffness:

Stretching test

 Sit on the floor and reach for your toes. If you are 40 or older and can get your fingers past them, it could be a sign that your arteries are flexible.

Pulse wave velocity

 The most widely used measure of arterial stiffness. It is a simple measure of the time taken by the pressure wave to travel over a specific distance.

Augmentation index

 A parameter to evaluate arterial stiffness and is commonly used as a predictor for cardiovascular risk.