Atheroma: Causes, Symptoms, Effects, Complications and Prevention

It refers to small fatty lumps that develop inside the blood vessels (arteries). These are formed as irregular areas of plaque.

They contribute to the hardening of the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.

Atheromas do not develop overnight but take months or years to accumulate, becoming more prominent and thicker. Over time, an atheroma patch can cause an artery to narrow, restricting and reducing blood flow through the vessel.

A danger presented by atheromas is their tendency to develop small cracks or ruptures. This can cause the circulatory system to produce a blood clot (thrombosis) at the atheroma site.

This can lead to a complete blockage of blood flow at the affected site, which could cause a heart attack.


Atheromas are composed mainly of macrophage cells (a type of white blood cell) or waste, which contain lipids (fats), calcium, and a variable amount of connective tissue. When these materials accumulate, they lead to the narrowing of the artery to which they are attached.

Atheromas do not occur in the veins, the blood vessels responsible for delivering deoxygenated blood to the heart since they are not subject to the same hemodynamic pressure as the arteries.


The arteries are composed of multiple layers of tissue. The atheromas can accumulate in the tunica intima layer between the endothelium lining and the middle layer of the smooth muscle of the artery wall.

The most critical factors contributing to endothelial dysfunction or damage are hemodynamic alterations (high blood pressure), hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol levels), and inflammation.

Toxins originating from cigarettes, homocysteine ​​, and broad-spectrum infectious agents can also contribute to atheroma development.

However, the exact origins of the atheromatous plaque are not well known. These fatty streaks can be found in the arterial walls of babies, but they are usually absorbed. However, in some instances, incomplete absorption may contribute to the atheromatous plaque later in life.


Signs and symptoms of atheroma include:

  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Short of breath.
  • Heart attack.
  • Transient ischemic attack.
  • Peripheral vascular disorder.
  • Vascular dementia
  • Calf pain.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Nausea.

Effects of atheroma

Atheromatous plaque causes partial or complete obstruction of an artery. In most cases, a clot formation is responsible for the complete blockage.

Commonly, the extent of ischemic damage depends on the size of the artery involved and whether collateral circulation is present to help bridge the blocked artery. The heart, abdomen, and pelvis arteries are often affected by the atheromatous plaque.

The effects of atheromas include:

Narrowing of an artery:

This results in an insufficient supply of blood to the affected tissue beyond the blockage site. Tissue cells may function at lower capacity, but at increased use, such as when muscle activity is more significant, pain may occur in cramps.

Pain can be relieved with rest. When this phenomenon involves the heart muscles, it is called angina pectoris.

Occlusion of an artery:

This is the complete blockage of an artery and leads to cell death due to a lack of blood supply.

When this happens, it is called a heart attack. If this phenomenon occurs in an essential vessel in the heart, it can cause myocardial infarction or a heart attack, resulting in severe disability or sudden death.

Complications of atheroma

Atheromas and narrowing or complete blockage of the arteries can cause several complications when the fibrous plaque covering the lid breaks and the platelets involved in the blood clot formation is activated.

When enough platelets reach the plaque site, a blood clot forms that causes ischemia and infarction.

In addition, if the atheromatous plaque calcifies, the artery becomes brittle and rigid and does not respond to increases in blood pressure. This can cause a rupture of the artery, leading to excessive bleeding or bleeding.

Another possible complication can occur due to the weakening of the arterial walls caused by the plaque that has developed between the layers of the tissue of the blood vessels. This can lead to an aneurysm, which is an enlarged part of the artery, and there is a chance that the artery will break.

Additional complications of atheromatous plaque include:

  • Heart disease and heart attack.
  • Cerebrovascular diseases such as TIA and stroke can cause brain damage.
  • Peripheral arterial disease, due to narrowing the arteries in the leg, commonly causes cramping and muscle pain.
  • Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Reducing the blood supply damages the regions of the brain involved in memory and cognition.

Prevent atheroma

Several factors that contribute to atheromatous plaques can be effectively frustrated. They are known as modifiable risk factors.


It is a vital risk factor for vascular disease because it causes the constriction of blood vessels, which increases blood pressure and platelet activation.

Diet and exercise:

Poor diet and lack of exercise can lead to obesity, which is partly responsible for developing high blood pressure.

A higher prevalence of sedentary behavior has caused obesity rates to reach record levels, increasing the risk of atherosclerotic plaque diseases.


This is an abnormal amount of lipids in the blood. It is often caused by a combination of genetic and dietary factors.

Modern medical science has linked a lower total plasma cholesterol concentration with a reduction in coronary heart disease. Diets generally focus on reducing saturated fats and correcting obesity.