Atherosclerosis is the hardening or clogging of the arteries and happens when plaque builds up inside an artery.

What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis, also known as the hardening or clogging of the arteries, happens when plaque builds up on the inside wall of an artery. Arteries become thick and hard. This restricts blood flow and can lead to a blockage.

What are the symptoms of atherosclerosis?

Mild atherosclerosis usually does not have any symptoms. If the blockage is in the artery of the heart, it will cause angina (chest pain). Atherosclerosis can lead to a heart attack or a stroke.

What are the causes of atherosclerosis?

The exact cause of atherosclerosis is not known. Atherosclerosis may start when certain factors damage the inner layers of the arteries. These factors include:

The blood vessel wall reacts by depositing fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances on the inner lining of the artery. This plaque formation gradually narrows the blood vessels, making it harder for blood to flow.

Plaque can also break apart and cause a blood clot to form on the broken surface or it can move through the bloodstream, preventing smooth blood flow to nearby organs. The resulting blood clot can also travel to other parts of your body and block blood flow to other organs.

How is atherosclerosis diagnosed?

Your doctor will review your medical history and may order the following tests:

What treatment is available for atherosclerosis?

Your doctor may treat your condition with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes.

Surgery and procedures include:

Medication may be prescribed to you to reduce fats and cholesterol in your blood or medications to control your blood pressure. Your doctor may prescribe antiplatelets to anticoagulants to reduce your risk of developing a blood clot.

Learn more about medications for your heart.

Resources

The following resources have information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for atherosclerosis.