Atherosclerosis, Atherosclerosis or Arteriosclerosis: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors and Treatment

Definition of Atherosclerosis

It is a degenerative disorder that damages the inner walls of large arteries, forming irregular thick patches called plaques, which accumulate in scattered places in the form of disorganized masses filled with cholesterol, lipids, and cells, all covered by a white fibrous layer, which narrows the artery, making blood flow increasingly tricky.

It occurs when blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of your body (arteries) become thick and stiff. The healthy streets are flexible and elastic, but over time, the walls of the arteries harden; this condition is commonly called the hardening of the arteries.

These plaques can break, causing a blood clot.

Atherosclerosis can damage tissues throughout the body:

  • The blockages in the carotid arteries can reduce or block blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke.
  • Obstructions in the peripheral arteries in the legs can cause claudication (pain when walking) and gangrene.
  • Atherosclerotic obstructions in the intestines cause intestinal ischemia.
  • In the coronary arteries, atherosclerotic obstructions cause heart attacks.


From childhood, a cascade of events slowly and silently leads to the development of atherosclerosis.

Children develop fatty streaks on the walls of their large arteries; These veins are sites where the lipoprotein particles are protected from direct contact with the blood, which eventually oxidizes into molecules, injuring the cells closest to them.

In arterial walls, leukocytes (white blood cells) are attracted to the areas where the cells are injured, producing a local inflammatory reaction. Some of the attracted leukocytes are macrophages.


Macrophages are cleansing cells that begin to phagocytose local lipids that are overwhelmed in their vicinity, becoming fatty waste that, when full of fat, are called foam cells, a characteristic of atherosclerotic plaque.

Atherosclerosis is a slow and progressive disease that can begin in childhood and is commonly attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle and genetic condition.

Although the exact cause is unknown, atherosclerosis can begin with damage or damage to the inner layer of an artery. The damage can be caused by:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol.
  • High levels of triglycerides.
  • Smoking and other sources of tobacco.
  • Resistance to insulin, obesity, or diabetes.
  • Arthritis, lupus, infections, or inflammation of unknown cause.


Usually, there will be no symptoms of atherosclerosis until an artery is so narrow or blocked that it is impossible to supply enough blood to the organs and tissues. Sometimes, a blood clot can completely block blood flow and trigger a heart attack or stroke.

The symptoms of atherosclerosis can range from moderate to severe, depending on the arteries that are affected:

In the arteries of the heart. You may have symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure (angina).

In the arteries that lead to the brain. It occurs: sudden numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty speaking, temporary loss of vision, or fallen muscles in the face.

In the arteries of the arms and legs. You may have symptoms, such as pain in your legs when walking (claudication).

In the arteries that lead to the kidneys. It presents the development of arterial hypertension or renal failure.

The Risk Factors of Atherosclerosis

A variety of conditions can make lipid removal systems inefficient. These atherogenic forces are known as risk factors for atherosclerosis.

Risk factors for atherosclerosis include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity, and the accumulated wear and tear of old age. When these conditions interfere with the extraction of lipids, they can inevitably clog the arteries.

In atherosclerosis, the lipid elimination systems of the body are working poorly. Foam cells die before the lipids can be removed, and a nucleus of necrotic cells forms within the expanding yellow stripe and becomes an atherosclerotic plaque.


Blood test. Laboratory tests can detect high cholesterol and blood sugar levels that can increase the risk of atherosclerosis.

Doppler ultrasound. Particular device to measure blood pressure at different points along the arm or leg. These measurements can help the doctor measure the degree of any blockage and the speed of blood flow in the arteries.

Ankle-brachial index. This test can determine if you have atherosclerosis in the arteries of the legs and feet. The blood pressure in the ankle is compared with that of the arm. This is known as the ankle-brachial index. An abnormal difference may indicate a peripheral vascular disease, usually caused by atherosclerosis.

Electrocardiogram (ECG). It records electrical signals as they travel through your heart and can often reveal signs of a previous heart attack.

Stress test A stress test gathers information about how well the heart works during physical activity. Since exercise makes the heart pump harder and faster, an exercise test can reveal problems in the heart that may not be noticeable otherwise.

Cardiac catheterization and angiography. This test can show if the coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked. A liquid pigment is introduced into the streets of the heart through a long, thin tube (catheter) that is nourished through an artery, usually in the leg. As the dye fills the arteries, they become visible with X-rays, revealing the areas of blockage.


Treatments for atherosclerosis can include lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures or surgery.

The objectives of the treatment are:

  • Relieve symptoms
  • The reduction of risk factors decreases or stops the accumulation of plaques.
  • Lower the risk of blood clots.
  • Enlargement or derivations in clogged arteries.
  • Prevention of diseases related to atherosclerosis.
  • The lifestyle changes.

Making changes in lifestyle can often help prevent or treat atherosclerosis. For some people, these changes may be the only necessary treatment.

Follow a healthy diet.

A healthy diet is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Following a healthy diet can prevent or reduce high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol and help maintain a healthy weight. Remember that a healthy lifestyle also includes constant physical exercise.


Medications for cholesterol. You can choose from various medicines for cholesterol, including some known as statins and fibrates. In addition to reducing cholesterol, statins have additional effects that help stabilize the lining of the heart arteries and prevent atherosclerosis.

Antiplatelet medications. Antiplatelet medications, such as aspirin reduce the chance that platelets congregate in narrowed arteries, forming a blood clot and causing further blockage.

Beta-blocking medications These medications are commonly used for coronary artery disease. They reduce the heart rate and blood pressure, reducing the demand on your heart and often relieve the symptoms of chest pain.

Beta-blockers reduce the risk of heart attacks and some heart rhythm problems.

Surgical procedures

Angioplasty and stent placement:  The doctor inserts a long, thin tube (catheter) into the clogged or narrow part of the artery. A secondary catheter with a deflated balloon at the tip is passed through the catheter to the narrowed area.

The balloon swells, compressing the deposits on the walls of the arteries. A mesh tube (stent) is usually left in the street to help keep the route open.

Endarterectomy: In some cases, fat deposits must be removed surgically from the walls of a narrowed artery.