Arterial stiffness occurs as a consequence of age and arteriosclerosis. Age related stiffness occurs when the elastic fibres within the arterial wall (elastin) begin to fray due to mechanical stress. The two leading causes of death in the developed world, myocardial infarction and stroke, are both a direct consequence of atherosclerosis. Increased arterial stiffness is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events.
When the heart contracts it generates a pulse or energy wave that travels through the circulation. The speed of travel of this pulse wave (pulse wave velocity or PWV) is related to the stiffness of the arteries.
(PWV) is a measure of arterial stiffness. It is easy to measure invasively and non-invasively in humans, is highly reproducible, has a strong correlation with cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality, and was recognized by the European Society of Hypertension as integral to the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension.