Calcium, cholesterol, and other deposits cause arteries to harden

Atherosclerosis happens as a result of plaque build-up inside the walls of the arteries, the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Plaque builds slowly over time as a result of calcium, cholesterol, cellular waste and other deposits, eventually causing “hardening” or narrowing of the arteries. When this happens, it becomes more difficult for blood to flow normally. It also increases the chances that a piece of plaque will break off or a blood clot will form, causing stroke or heart attack.

Atherosclerosis is also the common cause of:

It is not clear, however, why atherosclerosis occurs. It is thought that some combination of hereditary (something you’re born with) and lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, contribute significantly to the condition. Smoking, in particular, damages the arterial wall and accelerates the building up of plaque in the arteries.

How to know if you have atherosclerosis

You may not know that you have atherosclerosis until you have a heart attack or stroke. In many cases, there are no symptoms of the condition, but a doctor may detect atherosclerosis with certain diagnostic tests and imaging. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may recommend changes to your diet and exercise routine, and may prescribe certain medicines to improve blood flow in your body. In some cases, there may be a surgical solution, such as angioplasty, or coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).

Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis and the two words are often used interchangeably.

To schedule an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.