What is Atherosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are sometimes used to refer to the same condition, but there is a difference between the two terms.

Arteriosclerosis occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the arteries become thick and stiff — sometimes restricting blood flow to the organs and tissues. 

Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis referring to the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls. This buildup is called plaque which can cause arteries to narrow, blocking blood flow. Plaque can also burst, resulting in a blood clot.

What are the Symptoms of Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis symptoms do not usually appear until an artery is significantly narrowed or clogged, so it cannot supply enough blood to organs and tissues. Alternatively, a blood clot may completely block blood flow. The clot could break apart and trigger a heart attack or stroke.

Symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. An example of this would be how atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your brain can present as:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs
  • Difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • Temporary loss of vision in one eye
  • Drooping facial muscles. These signal a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Untreated, a TIA can lead to a stroke.

Some other symptoms of atherosclerosis include:

  • Atherosclerosis in your heart arteries presents as chest pain or pressure
  • Atherosclerosis in the arteries in your arms and legs presents as symptoms of peripheral artery disease, such as leg pain when walking
  • Atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to your kidneys can cause you to develop high blood pressure or kidney failure

How do you Diagnose Atherosclerosis?

Your general health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your personal and family health history. You may be referred to a cardiologist if your doctor hears a whooshing sound when listening to your arteries with a stethoscope.

Depending on the results of your physical exam, your doctor may suggest one of the following tests that are used to diagnose atherosclerosis:

  • Blood tests to check blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as high levels of blood sugar and cholesterol raise the risk of atherosclerosis
  • A C-reactive protein (CRP) test checks for the protein linked to inflammation of the arteries
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) measures the heart's electrical activity and can help determine if there's reduced blood flow to the heart
  • If your symptoms usually occur during exercise, an exercise stress test can show heart problems that might otherwise be missed
  • An echocardiogram uses sound waves to show blood flow through the heart
  • Doppler ultrasound measures your blood pressure at various points along your arm or leg to show the speed of blood flow in the arteries
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI) compares the blood pressure in the ankle with that in the arm, as the difference may be due to peripheral vascular disease, usually caused by atherosclerosis
  • Cardiac catheterization and angiogram use dye to help the arteries show up more clearly on images taken during the test
  • A coronary calcium scan, or a heart scan, uses computerized tomography (CT) imaging to show calcium deposits in the artery walls
  • Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or positron emission tomography (PET), can show the hardening and narrowing of large arteries and aneurysms

What Can Cause Atherosclerosis?

The exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown, but it may start with damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery. Damage resulting in atherosclerosis may be caused by:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High triglycerides
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Inflammation from an unknown cause
  • Inflammation from diseases such as arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lack of exercise
  • Aging
  • A family history of early heart disease
  • An unhealthy diet
  • Sleep apnea
Advanced Surgical Technology

What are the Treatment Options for Atherosclerosis?


Medication can slow or reverse the effects of atherosclerosis. Some medicines used to treat atherosclerosis include:

  • Statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Aspirin thins the blood and prevents blood clots, sometimes the primary prevention of heart attack or stroke in certain people
  • Blood pressure medications prevent or treat complications related to the disease, such as reducing the risk of a heart attack
  • Medications to control other health conditions that contribute to atherosclerosis, such as diabetes

Surgery or Other Procedures

You may need more aggressive treatment to treat atherosclerosis, such as if you have severe symptoms or a blockage. Surgery and other procedures intended to treat atherosclerosis include:

  • Angioplasty and stent placement to open a clogged or blocked artery
  • Endarterectomy to remove plaque from the walls of a narrowed artery
  • Fibrinolytic therapy uses a clot-dissolving drug if you have a clot in an artery that blocks blood flow
  • Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery is an open-heart surgery generally reserved for those with many narrowed heart arteries

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Lifestyle changes can help keep the arteries healthy while preventing or slowing atherosclerosis. The following tips can help keep your heart healthy:

  • Not smoking is one of the best ways to lower the risk of atherosclerosis complications, such as a heart attack
  • Regular exercise improves blood flow, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of conditions that increase the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease
  • Maintain a healthy weight, as losing even a small amount of weight can help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Reduce or avoid sugar and sugar substitutes
  • Manage and reduce emotional stress to temporarily lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of developing atherosclerosis

Can you Cure Atherosclerosis?

Unfortunately, you cannot cure atherosclerosis; once you’re diagnosed, you must prevent progression and further complications. Eating a balanced diet and regularly exercising are essential to reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to increase your comfort, mainly if your symptoms include chest or leg pain.

Statins are the most effective and commonly used cholesterol-lowering medications because they block the protein in your liver used to make low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The lower your LDL, the more likely you can halt plaque buildup.

Why Choose Us for Atherosclerosis Treatment?

At Advanced Surgical Technology, we provide medical treatments for a wide range of vascular conditions and symptoms, such as atherosclerosis. Our board-certified general and vascular surgeon, Dr. Liyanage, has over two decades of experience treating vascular conditions with advanced surgical techniques. His clinic is equipped with state-of-the-art technology for both diagnosis and treatment, making Advanced Surgical Technology the best choice for your atherosclerosis treatment.

Advanced Surgical Technology

Request An Appointment

© Advanced Surgical Technology. All Rights Reserved. Web Design & Internet Marketing by Studio III

Terms & Conditions Privacy Policy

Now offering mammography at Advanced Surgical Technology in Mt. Vernon

Learn More About Our Surgical Services

View Our Locations

Call Us: 618-732-4661

Contact Us