Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease (Atherosclerosis): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Atherosclerosis or atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is a disease in which plaques build up in and on the artery walls. Fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood are collectively known as plaques. Plaques narrow down the arteries and limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to parts of the body.

Atherosclerosis generally occurs at young age and worsens with age. Almost all people are affected to some degree by the age of 65 and is the number one cause of death and disability in the developed world.

How does Atherosclerosis affect your body?

When plaques accumulate in the arteries, they limit blood flow to the various areas of the body. This accumulation of plaques can lead to blood clots and other complications. For example, if enough blood is not getting to the brain, it can cause a stroke. If enough blood is not getting to the heart, it can cause a heart attack.

What are the causes of Atherosclerosis?

Exact cause of atherosclerosis is not known.Certain factors are believed to cause this disease including high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol and high levels of sugar in the blood.

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What are the risk factors of Atherosclerosis?

  • Diabetes– Poorly controlled diabetes and frequently high blood glucose levels are more likely to develop atherosclerosis.
  • Genetics-Having a parent or a sibling with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis than others.
  • Air pollution and smoking – Exposure to air pollution or smoking appears to increase the risk of cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries which eventually increases the risk of atherosclerosis.
  • Obesity– Overweight or obese people are at risk of developing this disease.
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What are the symptoms of Atherosclerosis?

Symptoms won’t appear until an artery is so narrowed or clogged that it can’t supply adequate blood to theorgans and tissues.

  • If atherosclerosis is in arteries, chest pain or pressure (angina) are experienced.
  • If atherosclerosis in the arteries lead to the brain, symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness in arms or legs, difficulty speaking or slurred speech, temporary loss of vision in one eye, or drooping muscles in the face are likely to appear.
  • If atherosclerosis in the arteries reaches to arms and legs, symptoms of peripheral artery disease, such as leg pain when walking (claudication) can be observed.
  • If atherosclerosis in the arteries lead to kidneys, high blood pressure or kidney failure can be developed.
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How is Atherosclerosis diagnosed?

Physical exam– During a physical exam, signs like weak or absent pulse below the narrowed area of artery, decreased blood pressure in an affected limb, whooshing sounds (bruits) over arteries, heard using a stethoscope will be observed.

Blood tests-Blood test can detect increased levels of cholesterol and blood sugar that may increase the risk of atherosclerosis.

Doppler ultrasound– Doppler ultrasound is used to measure the blood pressure at various points along the arm or leg. These measurements can help gauge the degree of any blockages, as well as the speed of blood flow in the arteries.

Ankle-brachial index– This test is done to identify atherosclerosis in the arteries present in legs and feet. Blood pressure in ankle is compared with the blood pressure in the arm. An abnormal measurement may indicate peripheral vascular disease, which is usually caused by atherosclerosis.

Electrocardiogram (ECG) -ECG records electrical signals as they travel through heart. This can often reveal evidence of a previous heart attack.

Stress test– This test gather information about how well your heart works during physical activity.Stress test usually involves walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while your heart rhythm, blood pressure and breathing are being monitored.

Cardiac catheterization and angiogram-These tests can show if the coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked.

Other imaging tests-Ultrasound, a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) can often show hardening and narrowing of large arteries, as well as aneurysms and calcium deposits in the artery walls.

How to prevent & control Atherosclerosis?

  • Diet– A healthy diet containing fruits and vegetables can help prevent atherosclerosis.
  • Exercise– Exercise improves circulation and functionality of the vessels and is also used to manage weight, lower blood pressure, and decrease cholesterol.
  • Smoking– Avoid or quit smoking to prevent atherosclerosis.
  • Managing weight– Maintaining a constant weight and also decreasing it if you are obese or over-weight can decrease the risk of atherosclerosis.

Treatment of Atherosclerosis- Allopathic Treatment

Surgical procedures

  • Angioplasty and stent placement– In this procedure, a long, thin tube (catheter) is inserted into the blocked or narrowed part of the artery. In this artery, a second catheter with a deflated balloon on its tip is then passed to the narrowed area. The balloon is inflated, compressing the deposits against the artery walls and a mesh tube (stent) is left in the artery to help keep the artery open.
  • Endarterectomy– Fatty deposits are surgically removed from the walls of a narrowed artery.
  • Bypass surgery– A graft bypass is created using a vessel from another part of the body or a tube made of synthetic fabric which allows blood to flow around the blocked or narrowed artery.


  • Cholesterol medications– Aggressively lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can slow or even reverse the buildup of fatty deposits in arteries. These drugs include statins and fibrates. Statins also help stabilize the lining of heart arteries and prevent atherosclerosis.
  • Anti-platelet medicationsAspirin, an anti-platelet drug reduce the likelihood that platelets will clump in narrowed arteries, form a blood clot and cause further blockage.
  • Beta blocker medications– These medications are used for coronary artery disease and lower heart rate and blood pressure, reducing the work load of heart.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors-ACE inhibitors help slow the progression of atherosclerosis by lowering blood pressure and producing other beneficial effects on the heart arteries.
  • Calcium channel blockers– These lower blood pressure and are sometimes used to treat angina.
  • Water pills (diuretics) – Diuretics lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of high blood pressure which increases the risk of atherosclerosis.

Treatment of Atherosclerosis- Homeopathic Treatment

  • Aurum metallicum– This is for atherosclerosis with valvular lesions. This medicine is usually for patients who suffer from high blood pressure.
  • Baryta Carbonicum-This is a remedy for atherosclerosis with hypertension and aneurysms.
  • Baryta muriaticum– This is prescribed for atherosclerosis of aorta and large blood vessels.
  • Cactus Grandiflorous– This is for atherosclerosis with marked heart weakness where the heart feels clutched and released alternately by an iron band.
  • ConvallariaMajalis– This is prescribed atherosclerosis of cigarette smokers.
  • Natrum Idatum– This is for atherosclerosis with angina pectoris, vertigo and dyspnea.
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Atherosclerosis- Lifestyle Tips

  • Quit smoking to halt the progression of atherosclerosis and reduce the risk of complications.
  • Regular exercise can help muscles to use oxygen more efficiently and can also improve circulation and promote development of new blood vessels.
  • Eat healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains and food low in refined carbohydrates, sugars, saturated fat and sodium.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. This can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, two of the major risk factors for developing atherosclerosis.
  • Reduce stress as much as possible by practicing healthy techniques such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing.

What are recommended exercise for person with Atherosclerosis?

Cycling, running, jumping and swimming for at least 30 minutes, every week for 3 or 4 times.

Atherosclerosis & pregnancy- Things to know

Pregnant women who have a miscarriage or stillbirth delivery especially more than one time, have a significantly increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, according to a study.

Common complications related to Atherosclerosis

  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Aneurysm
  • Stroke
  • Arrhythmia


Is atherosclerosis of the aorta possible?

Answer: Yes; plaque deposits can form in the aorta and cause atherosclerosis.

What is atherosclerotic calcification?

Answer: Atherosclerotic calcification refers to the process of plaque formation of calcium buildup.

What is the difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis?

Answer: Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis, though the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Arteriosclerosis refers to hardening and loss of elasticity in the arteries, which can be caused by atherosclerosis or other conditions.

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