What Is Atherosclerosis? What Are Its Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatments.


What Is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is commonly referred to as arteriosclerosis. It is a condition in which the arteries carrying blood and nutrients from the heart to the different parts of the body thickens and narrows down due to the build-up of plaque that consists of fats, cholesterol, and other substances.

These thicken or narrowing of the artery restrict the blood flow and oxygen supply to vital organs which increases the risk of blood clots that could block the flow of blood to the heart or as well brain.

It does not tend to have any symptoms at first and most people may be unaware that they have it, but it can eventually cause life-threatening problems such as stokes or also heart attacks if it gets worse.

But the condition is largely preventable with a healthy lifestyle and early treatment can also help to reduce the risk of having serious problems.

 What Causes Atherosclerosis?

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart throughout your body as they are lined by a layer of cells which is called the endothelium. It keeps the inside of your arteries in shape and smooth which helps to keep the flow of blood.

Atherosclerosis begins the damage of the endothelium whereas its causes are:

  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis or lupus
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

These are the damages that cause plaque to build up along the walls of your arteries.

When bad cholesterol crosses a damaged endothelium then it enters the wall of your artery. Your WBCs stream in to digest the bad cholesterol. Cholesterol and the cells become plaque in the wall of your artery.

Plaque creates a bump on your artery walls whereas if atherosclerosis gets worse then the bumps get bigger. When it gets big enough, it creates a blockage. That process goes on throughout your whole body. It is not only your heart at risk but you are also at a high risk of having a stroke or other health problems.

Atherosclerosis does not cause symptoms until you are middle age or older. As the narrowing becomes severe, it can choke off blood flow causing pain. Blockage can also rupture suddenly a which causes blood to clot inside an artery at the site of the rupture.

Symptoms Of Atherosclerosis

You might not have symptoms until your artery is closed or you have a heart attack. Signs also depend on the artery which is narrowed.

Symptoms related to your coronary artery include;

  • Arrhythmia, unusual heartbeat
  • Pain or pressure in your upper body that includes the chest, arms, neck, or jaw is known as angina.
  • Shortness of breath.

Symptoms related to the arteries that transfer blood to your brain include the listed points:

  • Numbness in your arms and legs
  • A hard time speaking
  • Drooping facial muscles
  • Paralysis
  • Severe headache
  • Trouble seeing in one of the eyes.

Symptoms that relate to the arteries of your arms, legs, and pelvis includes:

  • Leg pain when walking
  • Numbness

Symptoms related to the arteries from where the blood to your kidneys includes:

  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney failure

Diagnosis And Treatment

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above then it is strongly recommended to consult a doctor right away. The doctor may perform a physical examination like:

  • Checking the pulse
  • Checking a fall in blood pressure
  • Checking for a pulsating bulge near the knee

It is also followed by a series of tests to examine signs of hardened arteries including:

  • Doppler ultrasound
  • CT-scan
  • Angiogram
  • Blood tests
  • Ankle-brachial index
  • Electrocardiogram

Though it cannot be cured but  atherosclerosis can be prevented to grow. Once you have a blockage, it is there to stay. But with medication and lifestyle changes, you can stop the plaques and they even slightly shrink with the aggressive treatment.

Lifestyle Changes

You can slow or can also stop atherosclerosis by taking care of the risk factors which means a healthy diet, exercise, and avoid smoking. These changes won’t remove the blockages but they are proven to lower the risk of further problems.


Drugs for high cholesterol and high blood pressure will slow atherosclerosis. They could also lower the risk of heart attacks.

Your doctor may also use more invasive techniques to open the blockages from atherosclerosis that includes:

Angiography And Stenting

Your doctor puts a thin tube into an artery in your leg or arm to get to diseased arteries so the blockage is visible on the live X-ray screen. Stenting help to ease the symptoms but it doesn’t prevent you from heart attacks.

Bypass Surgery

Your doctor takes a healthy blood vessel often from your leg or chest and uses it to let it go around a block segment.


Your doctor goes into the arteries in your neck to remove plaque in order to restore the blood flow.

Fibrinolytic Therapy

A drug is used to dissolves a blood clot that is blocking your artery.