Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, sometimes called “hardening of the arteries,” occurs when fat (cholesterol) and calcium build up in the inner lining of the arteries, forming a substance called plaque. Over time, the fat and calcium buildup narrows the artery and blocks blood flow through it.

  • When atherosclerosis affects the arteries that supply blood to the heart, it can restrict blood flow to the heart muscle, causing heart pain (angina), irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia), and other problems. Plaque may burst open the artery lining, causing blood clots that can block blood flow, which in turn may cause a heart attack and cause damage to the heart muscle. Atherosclerosis in the heart (coronary) arteries is called coronary artery disease.
  • When atherosclerosis affects the arteries that supply blood to the brain, it may cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
  • Atherosclerosis can affect arteries in other parts of the body, such as the pelvis and legs, causing poor circulation, slower healing of skin injuries, and erection problems.

A major part of treating atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease involves lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking) and medications to help reduce high cholesterol, control high blood pressure, and manage other factors that increase a person's risk of heart attack, stroke, and other complications.

Last Updated: May 29, 2008

Author: Robin Parks, MS

Medical Review: Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine & Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology & Ruth Schneider, MPH, RD - Diet and Nutrition

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.