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by Rosenblum L


Atherosclerosis is hardening of a blood vessel from a buildup of plaque. Plaque is made of fatty deposits, cholesterol, and calcium. Plaque buildup causes the artery to narrow and harden.
Plaque buildup can slow and even stop blood flow. This means the tissue supplied by the artery is cut off from its blood supply. This often leads to pain or decreased function. This condition can cause a number of serious health problems. Depending on the location of the blockage, it can cause:
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A hardened artery is more likely to be damaged. Repeated damage to the inner wall of an artery causes blood clots to form. The clots are called thrombi. They can lead to a further decrease in blood flow. A thrombus sometimes becomes so large that it completely closes off the artery. It could also break into clumps, called emboli. These clumps travel through the bloodstream and lodge in smaller arteries, blocking them off. The tissue supplied by the artery receives no oxygen. It quickly dies. When this occurs in the heart, it is called a heart attack . In the brain, it is called a stroke .
Long-term atherosclerosis can also cause arteries to weaken. They may bulge under pressure. This bulge is called an aneurysm. If untreated, they can rupture and bleed.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of getting atherosclerosis include:


An important part of treatment is reducing risk factors. To do so, see the steps in the prevention section below. Treatment depends on the area of the body most affected.
Treatment may include:


Medicines can:

Catheter-based Procedures

These procedures involve a thin tube called a catheter. It is inserted into an artery. They are most often done for arteries in the heart. They may be used to treat atherosclerosis elsewhere in the body as well. These procedures include:
  • Balloon angioplasty —A balloon-tipped catheter is used to press plaque against the wall of the artery. This increases the amount of space for the blood to flow.
  • Stenting—Usually done after angioplasty. A wire mesh tube is placed in a damaged artery. It will support the wall of the artery and keep it open.
  • Atherectomy —Instruments are inserted via catheter. They are used to cut away and remove plaque so that blood can flow more easily. This procedure is not used as often.


Surgical options include:
  • Endarterectomy —Removal of the lining of an artery obstructed with large plaques. This is often done in carotid arteries of the neck. These arteries bring blood to the brain.
  • Arterioplasty— Repair of an aneurysm . It is usually done with synthetic tissue.
  • Bypass —Creation of an alternate route for blood flow. The procedure uses a separate vessel for blood to flow.


There are a number of ways to prevent and reverse atherosclerosis. They include:


American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute



Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada



Coronary artery disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated April 30, 2013. Accessed May 8, 2013.

Heart and stroke statistics. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed May 8, 2013.


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