BACKGROUND: Radicals have important physiological functions, for example, in immune defense and vasoprotection. However, they are also potentially dangerous waste products of cellular metabolism and they can contribute to the development of many different diseases. METHOD: Selective literature review. RESULTS: The scientific understanding of radicals has not yet led to any therapeutic application. For many years, scavenging already formed radicals with antioxidants was considered to be the most promising therapeutic approach, but clinical trials based on this principle have yielded mostly negative results. Thus, entirely new approaches are needed. The goal should be to prevent the formation of harmful radicals, or to treat radical-related damage if it has already occurred. New diagnostic tools have the potential to identify those patients that are most likely to benefit from this form of treatment, as well as to document its success. CONCLUSIONS: A new generation of cardiovascular drugs is being developed for the prevention or the mechanism-based treatment of vascular damage caused by oxidative stress. This new therapy should go hand in hand with new diagnostics, in accordance with the principle of individualized medicine.