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Everything You Need to Know about Atherosclerosis

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Everything You Need to Know about Atherosclerosis

Cardiology | by Dr. Sabyasachi Pal | Published on 06/12/2022

Atherosclerosis is a primary cause of mortality across the world these days. It makes the arteries hard by developing plaque gradually. There are countless risk factors linked to it and often people aren’t aware of them. It includes high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, and a high-saturated fat diet. This condition grows with time and might not show any signs till the complications worsen like heart stroke or heart attack.

In this write-up, we will discuss everything linked to atherosclerosis for your understanding so make sure that you stick till the end.

What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a health condition that occurs when plaque grows on the arteries inside walls. Arteries are the blood vessels that involve providing blood and oxygen from the heart to the entire body. On the other hand, plaque is a sticky substance formed of fat, calcium, cholesterol, and other materials. Arteries tend to become narrow and hard as plaque develops.

What are the stages of atherosclerosis?

Different atherosclerosis stages of development are there and every stage involves modification in the artery wall. These variations are so tiny that it is difficult to view them without a microscope. However, they are accountable for causing severe artery damage.

Here are the stages of atherosclerosis formation:

Stage 1: Endothelial damage and immune response

Atherosclerosis condition begins to develop when there is damage in the artery's inner layer wall. This thin layer is known as the intima. The intima surface is lined with endothelial cells. The thin lining is also known as endothelium act as the barrier between the artery wall and the blood. Certain factors are there which damage the endothelium and these include:

  • Circulation of high LDL (bad) levels in the blood.
  • Toxins come out from the cigarette smoke.
  • High blood pressure continues for a long time.

If the endothelium is damaged, here is what will happen:

  • Cholesterol from the blood begins to gather at the injury side.
  • The cholesterols transform into oxidation and involve triggering the immune response.
  • The response by the immune system leads to causing various white blood cells to travel to the area.

Stage 2: Fatty streak

Fatty streak is one of the first atherosclerosis symptoms which is yellow in colour or patch produced from the dead cells at the endothelial damage site. It involves monocytes moving to the artery and turning into cells known as macrophages. The macrophages are filled with cholesterol and can look like a foamy substance.

Stage 3: Plaque growth

In this stage, more dead foam cells and debris develop at the fatty streak site. It gradually gets huge and produces massive plaque pieces. There is a fibrous cap known as the artery’s smooth muscle cells producing a layer of plaque on top. The fibrous cap involves covering the plaque. It has the efficiency of preventing the plague bits from the bloodstream from breaking off. The development of plaque obtains calcium and makes it difficult for the condition. It is important to understand that plaque appears stable for a long period but ultimately leads to rupturing.

Stage 4: Plaque rupture

In the last stage, the plaque experiences rupturing and causes major difficulties in the body. It means that the plaque has been staying in the artery wall for a long time, maybe for years. It develops in huge size and holds massive space in an artery. However, the fibrous cap has managed to keep the plaque from breaking.

It is yet to find how the rupture occurs and who is more likely to experience danger. A thin fibrous cap might rupture more than the thicker one. It doesn’t matter what the size of a plaque is as at times it causes a heart attack.

What are the causes of atherosclerosis?

When it comes to understanding the causes of atherosclerosis, then it is clear exactly how this condition occurs. However, a slow plaque formation or thickening because of inflammation happens due to the artery inside walls. It causes a reduction in the blood flow and oxygen supply to the important body organs and extremities. If there is damage in the artery’s inner lining of endothelium, then it causes the condition of atherosclerosis to develop. The condition is often slow and takes time.

What are the symptoms of atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a condition that doesn’t have any symptoms till the time the artery becomes narrow and completely blocked. Some individuals don’t even know that they are suffering from the condition until there is a medical emergency like a heart stroke or attack.

The atherosclerosis symptoms can be seen when the artery is blocked around 70%. Here are some of the early signs:

  • Chest pain is experienced during exercise.
  • Leg cramps while trying to walk.
  • Mini stroke or transient ischemic attack or TIA.

How to diagnose atherosclerosis?

The doctor will initiate the atherosclerosis diagnosis in the following way:

  • The doctor will ask you about your family medical history.
  • Secondly, they will assess your personal medical history.
  • Thirdly, the doctor will perform a physical exam such as looking for a weak or absent pulse or an abnormal sound in the arteries.
  • Lastly, there will be blood tests for measuring the fat amount, sugar, cholesterol, and protein in the blood.

There are other tests also that will be ordered for atherosclerosis diagnosis such as chest x-ray, CT scan, angiography, ECG or echocardiogram, EKG or electrocardiogram, carotid ultrasound, and abdominal ultrasound.

What is the treatment of atherosclerosis?

The atherosclerosis treatment includes certain lifestyle changes, surgical processes, and medications. Your doctor will ensure choosing the finest treatment options and hence will work that will help to:

  • Lower blood risk clots
  • Assist you in making the healthier choices
  • Prevent complications such as heart stroke or attack
  • Ease symptoms
  • Ensure that the development of plaque is slowed down in the arteries
  • Ensure that blood flows better

Atherosclerosis also involves advanced treatment optional that is surgical procedures like coronary angioplasty, coronary artery bypass surgery, and carotid endarterectomy.

Final words

If you are diagnosed with atherosclerosis and worried about the risks, make sure to reach out to your doctor at the earliest. It can cause heart attack, heart failure, and heart stroke if left untreated. Make sure to comprehend everything you can about the disease so that you are mindful of the treatment options and making lifestyle changes. You must also be aware of the risk factors such as diabetes, smoking, blood pressure, obesity, physical activity, and saturated fats. Timely medications, treatments, or surgery are very important to prevent the complications of atherosclerosis so don’t overlook the condition in any way.


Is atherosclerosis a heart disease?

Yes, it is usually known as heart disease as it involves affecting arteries across the body. Healthy lifestyle habits can benefit in preventing atherosclerosis.

Is atherosclerosis reversible?

Atherosclerosis is a partially reversible condition with improved lifestyle and medications to control the risk factors. Taking medications on time can also assist in reversing atherosclerosis.

What is the difference between arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are similar. Atherosclerosis is a particular type of arteriosclerosis and occurs when there is a presence of substances such as cholesterol, plaque, and fats that grow in the arteries causing them to narrow down. Atherosclerosis is a slow health condition that tends to get worse rapidly.

Can a blood test detect atherosclerosis?

Yes, your doctor might recommend getting a blood test done for atherosclerosis as a treatment option.

How long can you live with atherosclerosis?

You can live a healthy and active life with atherosclerosis effortlessly. All you have to ensure is to follow the recommendations of the doctor to make healthy lifestyle changes and take medications on time. It is also important to diagnose the problem beforehand so that treatment can be received on time.