Comprehensive Guide to Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a condition characterized by the hardening and narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of plaque. Plaque is made up of fats, cholesterol, and other substances found in the blood. This buildup can lead to reduced blood flow, potentially causing serious complications like heart attack, stroke, or even death.


Arteries are blood vessels responsible for transporting oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. In a healthy body, arteries are smooth and elastic. However, in the presence of factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or inflammation, fatty deposits, or plaque, can build up in the artery walls. As this plaque accumulates, the arteries narrow and harden, a condition called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the body, including arteries in the heart, brain, arms, legs, and pelvis. Consequently, the disease can cause various disorders, depending on which arteries are affected.

Causes of Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that typically begins in childhood and progresses as individuals age. It's often the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits and several other factors, including:

- High blood pressure: Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis.

- High cholesterol levels: High levels of cholesterol in your blood can lead to the formation of plaque.

- Smoking: Smoking can damage and tighten blood vessels, contribute to plaque buildup, and worsen atherosclerosis.

- Insulin resistance or diabetes: Excess glucose in the blood can contribute to atherosclerosis.

- Obesity: Excess weight often correlates with risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

- Inflammation from diseases such as arthritis, lupus, or infections, or inflammation of unknown cause.

Symptoms of Atherosclerosis

In the early stages, atherosclerosis usually doesn't cause any symptoms. Symptoms only appear when an artery is so narrowed or clogged that it can't supply adequate blood to your organs and tissues. These symptoms vary depending on the affected arteries:

- Coronary arteries: Chest pain or angina, shortness of breath, fatigue, irregular heartbeat.

- Carotid arteries: Sudden weakness, breathing difficulty, headache, facial numbness, blindness in one eye.

- Peripheral arteries: Leg pain while walking, numbness or weakness in legs, coldness in lower leg or foot.

Diagnosis of Atherosclerosis

Diagnosis of atherosclerosis includes:

- Physical Exam: The doctor listens to arteries using a stethoscope for an abnormal whooshing sound called a bruit, signaling disrupted blood flow.

- Blood Tests: These check for levels of certain fats, cholesterol, sugar, and proteins in your blood.

- Doppler Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to display blood flowing through your arteries.

- Ankle-brachial index: This test compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm to see if you have peripheral artery disease.

- Electrocardiogram (ECG) and stress tests: These can identify whether you've had a heart attack or could be at risk of one.

- Cardiac catheterization or coronary angiogram: These tests help doctors identify blockages in your arteries.

Precautions for Atherosclerosis

You can take steps to protect yourself against atherosclerosis by making lifestyle changes such as:

- Quitting smoking.

- Following a healthy diet that's low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.

- Maintaining a healthy weight.

- Regular exercise.

- Controlling other medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Treatment of Atherosclerosis in India's Top Hospitals

Atherosclerosis treatments aim to reduce symptoms and prevent the progression of the disease. They can include lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures or surgery.

- Lifestyle changes: As mentioned earlier, a healthy diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking, and controlling underlying conditions can greatly help manage atherosclerosis.

- Medications: Medications can slow or stop the progression of atherosclerosis, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce blood glucose levels, and prevent blood clots.

- Medical procedures or Surgery: Procedures like angioplasty and stent placement, endarterectomy, fibrinolytic therapy, or bypass surgery might be necessary in severe cases.


In conclusion, atherosclerosis is a serious condition that requires diligent attention. Regular check-ups, adherence to a healthy lifestyle, and prescribed treatments can help manage the disease and prevent severe complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

While it's not possible to reverse atherosclerosis, healthy lifestyle changes and treatments can stop the progression of the disease and prevent serious complications.

Atherosclerosis is common in older adults, but it begins in early life and progresses slowly over time.

While atherosclerosis itself isn't inherited, certain traits that increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis can be.

Yes, a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help prevent atherosclerosis.

Yes, regular physical activity can help lower your risk of atherosclerosis by helping you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and control diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Atherosclerosis is a common cause of heart disease. Over time, plaque buildup in the coronary arteries can restrict blood flow, leading to chest pain and other symptoms of heart disease.

In most cases, atherosclerosis doesn't cause symptoms until a blockage occurs. Warning signs can include chest pain, shortness of breath, or symptoms of stroke such as facial numbness, weakness in your limbs, and sudden difficulty speaking.

Yes, doctors can detect early signs of atherosclerosis through physical exams and other tests.

Smoking damages and constricts blood vessels, increases cholesterol levels and blood pressure, making atherosclerosis worse.

Long-term stress can indirectly contribute to atherosclerosis by promoting habits that increase the risk of atherosclerosis, such as smoking and unhealthy eating.

Meet our Doctor's