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 smaller blood vessels, blocking them and causing tissue damage, which may be life threatening. Atherosclerosis occurs most often in people who have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis.

What are the risk factors for atherosclerosis?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis. Not all people with risk factors will get atherosclerosis. Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • High-fat diet
  • Advanced age
  • Obesity
  • Personal or family history of heart disease
  • Smoking

Reducing your risk of atherosclerosis

You may be able to lower your risk of atherosclerosis by:

  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Keeping your cholesterol at a healthy level
  • Maintaining normal blood pressure
  • Reducing the amount of cholesterol and fat in your diet
  • Quitting smoking or other tobacco use

What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty material, such as fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream, collects along the walls of arteries. This fatty material thickens, hardens, and forms hard structures called plaques that narrow, and may eventually block blood flow through, the arteries. Narrowing and blockage of arteries results in hypertension, chest pain, transient ischemic attack... Read more about atherosclerosisintroduction


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.... Read more about atherosclerosissymptoms


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.... Read more about atherosclerosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 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