Categories: Disease A-Z

What is Atherosclerosis ? – A-Z Disease


What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a disease that occurs when plaque (fat deposits) clog your arteries. Plaque is formed from fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood.

Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Meanwhile, coronary arteries are special arteries that carry blood to all parts of the heart (a source of oxygen and heart nutrition).

When plaque develops, one type of artery will be affected.

Over time, plaque can block part or all of the blood flow through large and medium-sized arteries in the heart, muscles, pelvis, legs, arms, or kidneys. If you have this, these conditions can trigger various other conditions, namely:

  • Coronary heart disease (plaque in the coronary arteries or leading to all parts of the heart)
  • Angina (chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle)
  • Carotid artery disease (plaque in the neck arteries that supply blood to the brain)
  • Peripheral artery disease or PAD (plaque in the extremity arteries, especially the legs)
  • Chronic kidney disease

How common is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a fairly common problem associated with aging. As you get older, your risk of developing atherosclerosis increases.

Genetic or lifestyle factors cause plaque to accumulate in your veins as you grow older. By the time you are middle-aged or older, enough plaque has accumulated to cause signs or symptoms.

In men, the risk increases after the age of 45 years. In women, the risk increases after the age of 55 years.

However, this can be overcome by reducing your risk factors. Discuss with your doctor for more information.

The symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis does not occur immediately, but gradually. Mild atherosclerosis usually does not cause symptoms.

Generally, you will not show symptoms of atherosclerosis before the arteries are so narrow or blocked that they cannot provide enough blood for the organs and tissues. Sometimes, blood clots completely block blood flow, or even break it and can trigger a heart attack or stroke.

From moderate to severe depending on the artery affected, the symptoms of atherosclerosis are:

If you have atherosclerosis in the heart arteries, you can show symptoms, such as pain or pressure in the chest (angina).

If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to the brain, you can show signs and symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, temporary loss of vision in one eye, or dulling of muscles in the face.

These are signs of a momentary ischemic attack (TIA), which if left untreated, can develop into a stroke.

If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries of the arms and legs, you can show symptoms of peripheral arterial disease, such as leg pain when walking (claudication).

If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to the kidneys, you will experience high blood pressure or kidney failure.

When should I see a doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop worsening of atherosclerosis and prevent heart attacks, strokes or other medical emergencies, so check with your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.

If you experience any of the signs or symptoms mentioned above, or have any questions, consult your doctor.

Everyone's body reacts differently. It's always better to discuss what's best for your situation with your doctor.


What causes atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a disease that develops slowly and gradually. This disease usually begins to appear during childhood.

In some people, the disease develops rapidly in their 30s. Some cases show the disease is not dangerous until they reach 50 to 60 years of age.

Plaque buildup and hardening of the arteries restrict the flow of blood in the arteries, preventing organs and tissues from getting the full blood oxygen needed for bodily functions.

How this condition began or the exact cause is still unknown, but several theories have been used to explain it. According to the American Heart Association, many scientists believe that this condition arises when the inner lining of an artery (called the endothelium) is damaged.

Common causes of atherosclerosis are:

High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a yellow soft substance found naturally in the body and also in certain foods that you eat. This substance can increase in the blood and clog arteries, become hard plaques that limit or block blood circulation to the heart and other organs.


Eating foods that are high in fat can also cause plaque buildup.


As we get older, the heart and blood vessels work harder to pump and receive blood. The arteries can weaken and become less elastic, making them vulnerable to plaque buildup.

Other common causes of atherosclerosis are:

  • Smoking and other sources of tobacco
  • Insulin resistance, obesity or diabetes
  • Inflammation due to diseases, such as arthritis, lupus or infection, or inflammation without a known cause.

Smoking has a major role in the growth of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, aorta, and arteries in the legs. Smoking allows fat deposits to be more easily formed and grow bigger and faster.

What increases the risk of atherosclerosis?

There are many factors that can put you at risk for atherosclerosis. Some risks can be prevented, while others cannot.

Family history

If atherosclerosis is in the family, you could be at risk for hardening of the arteries. This condition, and other heart-related problems, can be inherited.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels by making it weak in certain areas. Cholesterol and other substances in the blood can reduce arterial flexibility over time.

High CRP protein levels

According to the U.S National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, scientists are developing further research to look for other risk factors for atherosclerosis.

High levels of protein are called C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood can increase the risk of the condition and heart attack. High levels of CRP are a sign of inflammation in the body.

Inflammation is the body's response to injury or infection. Damage to the inner walls of the arteries seems to trigger inflammation and plaque growth.

People who have low CRP levels can develop atherosclerosis at a slower rate than people with high CRP levels. Research is underway to find out whether reducing CRP levels can also reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Triglyceride Fat Levels

High levels of triglycerides in the blood can also increase the risk of the condition, especially in women. Triglycerides are a type of fat.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes one or more pauses in breath or shortness of breath while you sleep. Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and even a heart attack or stroke.


Research shows that the most commonly reported triggers for heart attacks are emotionally disappointing events, especially those involving anger.

Alcohol consumption

Excessive drinking of alcohol can damage the heart muscle and worsen other risk factors for atherosclerosis. Men should not drink more than two drinks containing alcohol a day.

Meanwhile, women should not drink more than one drink containing alcohol a day.

Other risk factors for atherosclerosis are:

  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • Lack of exercise
  • Unhealthy diet


How is atherosclerosis diagnosed?

During a physical examination, the doctor can find signs of narrowing, enlargement or hardening of the arteries, including:

  • An pulse that is not felt or weak in the area where there is narrowing of the arteries
  • Decreased blood pressure in the affected limb
  • A whistle in the artery that is heard using a stethoscope

Depending on the results of the physical examination, the doctor may suggest one or more diagnostic tests, including:

Blood test

Lab tests can detect cholesterol and blood sugar levels which can increase the risk of atherosclerosis. You must fast and only drink water for 9 to 12 hours before a blood test.

Doppler ultrasound

Your doctor can use an ultrasound device (Doppler ultrasound) to measure blood pressure at various points along your arm or leg. This measurement can help doctors measure each block and the rate of blood flow in the arteries.

Angkle-brachial index

This test can show if you have atherosclerosis in the arteries of the legs and feet. Your doctor can compare blood pressure at the ankle with blood pressure on your arm.

This is called ankle-brachial index. Abnormal differences can indicate peripheral vascular disease that is usually caused by atherosclerosis.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

ECG can often show evidence of a heart attack. If the signs and symptoms that you feel most often occur during your exercise, your doctor may ask you to walk on a treadmill or cycle during ECG.

Stress level

Stress tests, also called treadmill stress tests, are used to gather information about how well your heart is working during physical activity.

Because exercise makes the heart pump harder and faster than when doing most daily activities, a treadmill stress test can show heart problems that may not be detected in other ways.

Stress tests usually consist of walking on a treadmill or static cycling while heart rhythm, blood pressure and breathing are monitored.

Heart catheterization and angiogram

This test can show whether your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. Liquid dye is injected into the heart arteries through a long, thin tube (catheter) inserted through one artery, usually in the leg, into the arteries in the heart.

As the dye fills the arteries, the arteries appear on an X-ray, showing the area of ​​the blockage.

Other imaging tests

Your doctor can use ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) to study your arteries. These tests can often show hardening and narrowing of large arteries, as well as aneurysms and calcium deposits in artery walls.


The information provided is not a substitute for medical advice. ALWAYS consult your doctor for more information.

What are the treatments for atherosclerosis?

Treatment includes changing your current lifestyle to a lifestyle that limits the amount of fat and cholesterol you consume.

The goals in this treatment are:

  • Reducing the risk of blood clots forming
  • Prevent atherosclerosis-related diseases
  • Reducing risk factors in an effort to slow down or stop plaque buildup
  • Relieve symptoms

You need to exercise more to improve heart and blood vessel health. Medical treatments to treat atherosclerosis are:


Medications can help prevent worsening of atherosclerosis. These medicines include:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs, including statins and fibric acid derivatives
  • Anti-thrombosis and anticoagulant drugs, such as aspirin, to prevent blood clots and blockages in the arteries
  • Beta blockers or calcium channel blockers to reduce blood pressure
  • Diuretic or water pill, to help lower blood pressure
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which help prevent narrowing of the arteries


In some cases, surgery is needed if symptoms are very severe, or if muscle or skin tissue is threatened. Possible operations to treat atherosclerosis are:

  • Bypass surgery, which includes the use of blood vessels from other body parts or synthetic tubes to deflect blood around blocked or narrowed arteries
  • Thrombolytic therapy, which involves dissolving blood clots by injecting drugs into the affected arteries
  • Angioplasty, which includes the use of thin and flexible tubes called catheters and balloons to expand the arteries
  • Endarteretomi, which includes surgery to remove fat deposits from the arteries
  • Atherectomy, which involves removing plaque from the arteries using a catheter with a sharp knife tip

Stent or ring installation

In this procedure, the doctor attaches a stent or ring, which is a small cylinder of wire in the angioplasty process.

During angioplasty, the doctor will first insert a catheter into the artery in the leg or arm. The catheter is then moved to the area of ​​concern, usually the coronary arteries.

By injecting the dye that is visible on a direct X-ray screen, the doctor can monitor the blockage. The doctor then opens the blockage using a small instrument at the end of the catheter.

During the process, a balloon at the end of the catheter is inflated inside the blockage to open it.

The ring can be placed in this process and deliberately left behind once the balloon and catheter are removed.

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can be done to treat atherosclerosis?

The following home remedies can help you reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, including:

  • Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Avoid fatty foods
  • Add fish to the diet twice per week
  • Exercise for 30 to 60 minutes per day, six days per week
  • Stop smoking if you are a smoker
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Overcoming stress
  • Treat conditions related to atherosclerosis, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes

If you have questions, consult your doctor to understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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