What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which circulating lipids, such as fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream, collect along the walls of arteries. This fatty material thickens and forms structures called plaques that narrow, and may eventually block blood flow through, the arteries. Large and medium-sized arteries are affected. Narrowing and blockage of arteries results in hypertension, chest pain, transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke, poor circulation to legs and feet, and other cardiovascular symptoms.

Atherosclerosis is a common cardiovascular disease in the United States. The disease is a leading cause of illness and death in the United States. Atherosclerosis is the most common cause for heart attack and stroke. Most commonly, people develop atherosclerosis as a result of diabetes, genetic risk factors, high blood pressure, a high-fat diet, obesity, high blood cholesterol levels, and smoking.

The signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis are usually not apparent until blood flow becomes restricted. The course of the disease varies among individuals. Some people with atherosclerosis have no symptoms at all, while others may have severe hypertension, aneurysm, blood clots, and coronary or peripheral artery disease. Fortunately, atherosclerosis can be treated successfully with medications, a healthy diet and lifestyle changes, and certain medical procedures. Even better, you can reduce your risk of atherosclerosis by following a heart-healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and having regular checkups with your health care provider.

Left untreated, atherosclerosis may lead to severe blood clots, which can cause stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as sweating and severe difficulty breathing, which may be combined with pale or blue lips, fast heart rate, chest pain or pressure, loss of consciousness, severe headache, or sudden numbness or weakness. Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for atherosclerosis but mild symptoms recur or are persistent, such as leg pain or chest pressure.


SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to body organs and tissues, resulting in a number of symptoms. The symptoms can vary in intensity among individuals. Mild atherosclerosis usually does not produce any symptoms. However, symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected.

Common symptoms of atherosclerosis

The m... Read more about atherosclerosissymptoms

CAUSES

What causes atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is caused by the accumulation in the bloodstream of fat, cholesterol, and other substances that build up on the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques. Plaque narrows and stiffens the arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow through the artery. In addition, pieces of plaque can break off and travel through the affected artery (embolize) and lodge in sma... Read more about atherosclerosiscauses

TREATMENTS

How is atherosclerosis treated?

Treatment of atherosclerosis begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine if you have atherosclerosis, your health care provider will ask you to undergo diagnostic testing.

Lifestyle changes and drug therapy are the mainstays of treatment for atherosclerosis. It is important to follow your treatment plan for atherosclerosis precisely and to take al... Read more about atherosclerosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation