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Condition

Atherosclerosis

Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

What is the definition of Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis, sometimes called "hardening of the arteries," occurs when fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the walls of arteries. These deposits are called plaques. Over time, these plaques can narrow or completely block the arteries and cause problems throughout the body.

Atherosclerosis is a common disorder.

What are the alternative names for Atherosclerosis?

Hardening of the arteries; Arteriosclerosis; Plaque buildup - arteries; Hyperlipidemia - atherosclerosis; Cholesterol - atherosclerosis

What are the causes for Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis often occurs with aging. As you grow older, plaque buildup narrows your arteries and makes them stiffer. These changes make it harder for blood to flow through them.

Clots may form in these narrowed arteries and block blood flow. Pieces of plaque can also break off and move to smaller blood vessels, blocking them.

These blockages starve tissues of blood and oxygen. This can result in damage or tissue death. It is a common cause of heart attack and stroke.

High blood cholesterol levels can cause hardening of the arteries at a younger age.

For many people, high cholesterol levels are due to a diet that is too high in saturated fats and trans fats.

Cholesterol

Other factors that can contribute to hardening of the arteries include:

  • Diabetes
  • Family history of hardening of the arteries
  • High blood pressure
  • Lack of exercise
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking

What are the symptoms for Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis does not cause symptoms until blood flow to part of the body becomes slowed or blocked.

If the arteries supplying the heart become narrow, blood flow can slow down or stop. This can cause chest pain (stable angina), shortness of breath, and other symptoms.

Narrowed or blocked arteries may also cause problems in the intestines, kidneys, legs, and brain.

What are the current treatments for Atherosclerosis?

Lifestyle changes will reduce your risk of atherosclerosis. Things you can do include:

  • Quit smoking: This is the single most important change you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Avoid fatty foods: Eat well-balanced meals that are low in fat and cholesterol. Include several daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Adding fish to your diet at least twice a week may be helpful. However, do not eat fried fish.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink: Recommended limits are one drink a day for women, two a day for men.
  • Get regular physical activity: Exercise with moderate intensity (such as brisk walking) 5 days a week for 30 minutes a day if you are at a healthy weight. For weight loss, exercise for 60 to 90 minutes a day. Talk to your provider before starting a new exercise plan, especially if you have been diagnosed with heart disease or you have ever had a heart attack.
Prevention

If your blood pressure is high, it is important for you to lower it and keep it under control.

The goal of treatment is to reduce your blood pressure so that you have a lower risk of health problems caused by high blood pressure. You and your provider should set a blood pressure goal for you.

  • Do not stop or change high blood pressure medicines without talking to your provider.

Your provider may want you to take medicine for abnormal cholesterol levels or for high blood pressure if lifestyle changes do not work. This will depend on:

  • Your age
  • The medicines you take
  • Your risk of side effects from possible medicines
  • Whether you have heart disease or other blood flow problems
  • Whether you smoke or are overweight
  • Whether you have diabetes or other heart disease risk factors
  • Whether you have any other medical problems, such as kidney disease

Your provider may suggest taking aspirin or another medicine to help prevent blood clots from forming in your arteries. These medicines are called antiplatelet drugs. DO NOT take aspirin without first talking to your provider.

Losing weight if you are overweight and reducing blood sugar if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes can help reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis cannot be reversed once it has occurred. However, lifestyle changes and treating high cholesterol levels can prevent or slow the process from becoming worse. This can help reduce the chances of having a heart attack and stroke as a result of atherosclerosis.

What are the possible complications for Atherosclerosis?

In some cases, the plaque is part of a process that causes a weakening of the wall of an artery. This can lead to a bulge in an artery called an aneurysm. Aneurysms can break open (rupture). This causes bleeding that can be life threatening.

Carotid
Carotid
Enlarged
Developmental
Angina
Atherosclerosis
Coronary

REFERENCES

Arnett DK, Blumenthal RS, Albert MA, Buroker AB, et al. 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: executive summary: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019;74(10):1376-1414.PMID: 30894319 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30894319/.

Genest J, Libby P. Lipoprotein disorders and cardiovascular disease. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 48.

James PA, Oparil S, Carter BL, et al. 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: report from the panel members appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8). JAMA. 2014;311(5):507-520. PMID: 24352797 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24352797/.

Libby P. The vascular biology of atherosclerosis. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 44.

Marks AR. Cardiac and circulatory function. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 47.

US Preventive Services Task Force website. Final recommendation statement: statin use for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in adults: preventive medication. Updated November 13, 2016. Accessed January 28, 2020. www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/RecommendationStatementFinal/statin-use-in-adults-preventive-medication1.

Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018;71(19):2199-2269. PMID: 2914653 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29146533/.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Older Adults with Metabolic Syndrome (MetS)
  • Journal: Nutrients
  • Treatment Used: Resveratrol, Piperine, and Alpha-Tocopherol
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
This study evaluated the effectiveness of supplementation with resveratrol, piperine, and alpha-tocopherol in older adults with metabolic syndrome (cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes; MetS).
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Hemodialysis
  • Journal: Clinical laboratory
  • Treatment Used: Pentoxifylline
  • Number of Patients: 36
  • Published —
The study researched the outcomes of pentoxifylline in hemodialysis patients.l

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
Other
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Other
  • Participants: 50
  • Start Date: December 2023
A Randomized Controlled Trial to Evaluate an EHR-based PAD Screening Tool
Clinical Trial
Device
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Device
  • Participants: 120
  • Start Date: December 2021
Pivotal Study of the Medtronic Axys EX Rotational Atherectomy System for the Treatment of Peripheral Arterial Disease in the Vasculature of the Lower Limbs