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What Is Atherosclerosis?

The term “atherosclerosis” was derived from two Greek words, namely, “athero” and “sclerosis”. “Athero” means “paste” or “gruel”, and “sclerosis” means “hardness”. It refers to the process of the building up of cholesterol, fatty acids, calcium, cellular waste products and other substances in the inner linings of arteries. The buildup in the arteries is often called plague, and it is usually found in medium- and large-sized arteries. The plague will cause the arteries to harden as people become older.


As plague grow in the arteries, it can become large enough to reduce blood flow significantly. They will start causing serious damage to the body when they rupture and cause the blood to clot. As a result, blood flow will be blocked, broken off or diverted to other parts of the body. If atherosclerosis occurs in an artery that leads to the heart, it can result in a heart attack. If blood supply is blocked in arteries that feed the brain and the limbs, it will cause stroke and gangrene respectively.

Atherosclerosis is a complex condition that develops slowly from childhood. According to researchers, it starts when the innermost layer of an artery is damaged, and it becomes worse with age. Some of the common causes of atherosclerosis include high cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, hypertension, diabetes and smoking. Tobacco smoke can speed up the development of atherosclerosis in the aorta, coronary arteries and leg arteries.


Symptoms of atherosclerosis will not show until the blood flow is blocked or restricted, and they will appear as signs of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, aneurysm and angina. Here are lists of symptoms for these cardiovascular diseases.

Heart Attack

  • pain in the chest and other parts of the body
  • excessive anxiety
  • difficulty in breathing
  • coughing
  • nausea
  • wheezing
  • light-headedness


  • face fallen on one side
  • inability to raise both arms
  • slurring of speech
  • severe headaches
  • dizziness
  • difficulty in maintaining balance and coordination
  • weakness or numbness
  • loss of consciousness

Peripheral Arterial Disease

  • numbness or weakness in legs
  • hair loss on legs
  • permanent sores on legs and feet
  • change in color of skin
  • thickening of nails
  • erectile dysfunction


  • severe headache
  • severe pain in the abdomen
  • pain in the scrotum


  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • breathlessness
  • fatigue
  • restlessness
  • dizziness


Atherosclerosis can be treated in a number of ways. Since the disease is caused by high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, it can be treated with medications. Hypertension medications, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and thiazide diuretics, have been proven to be effective in controlling atherosclerosis. Statins can be used for treating high cholesterol as well as atherosclerosis. Another way to counter atherosclerosis is to prevent blood clots, and anti-platelets can be used for this purpose. If the disease has developed in the coronary arteries or carotid arteries, surgery may be required. Some of the surgeries that are usually performed for atherosclerosis patients include coronary angioplasty, coronary artery bypass graft, carotid angioplasty, carotid arteries surgery and carotid endarterectomy.


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