Hardening of the arteries

Other names: Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis, Atherosclerosis


Arteriosclerosis occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body (arteries) become thick and stiff — sometimes restricting blood flow to your organs and tissues. Healthy arteries are flexible and elastic, but over time, the walls in your arteries can harden, a condition commonly called hardening of the arteries.

Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis, but the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on your artery walls (plaques), which can restrict blood flow.

These plaques can burst, triggering a blood clot. Although atherosclerosis is often considered a heart problem, it can affect arteries anywhere in your body. Atherosclerosis usually is preventable and is treatable.


Atherosclerosis develops gradually. Mild atherosclerosis usually doesn't have any symptoms.

You usually won't have atherosclerosis symptoms until an artery is so narrowed or clogged that it can't supply adequate blood to your organs and tissues. Sometimes a blood clot completely blocks blood flow, or even breaks apart and can trigger a Heart attack or Stroke.

Symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. For example:

When to see a doctor

If you think you have atherosclerosis, talk to your doctor. Also pay attention to early symptoms of inadequate blood flow, such as Chest pain (Angina), leg pain or numbness. Early diagnosis and treatment can stop atherosclerosis from worsening and prevent a Heart attack, Stroke or another medical emergency.


Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may begin as early as childhood. Although the exact cause is unknown, atherosclerosis may start with damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery. The damage may be caused by:


Hardening of the arteries occurs over time. Besides aging, factors that increase the risk of atherosclerosis include:


The complications of atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are blocked. For example:


If you think you may have atherosclerosis or are worried about having it due to family history, make an appointment with your doctor to have your cholesterol level checked.


During a physical exam, signs of narrowed, enlarged or hardened arteries can be found. Depending on the results, diagnostic tests may include:


Lifestyle changes are often the best treatment for atherosclerosis. Medications like cholesterol medications and surgical procedures like angioplasty may also be recommended.


Quitting smoking, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent and treat atherosclerosis.


Some foods and herbal supplements can help reduce high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure associated with developing atherosclerosis. Consult with your doctor before adding any supplements to your treatment plan.


  1. What is arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis occurs when arteries become thick and stiff due to plaque buildup.

  1. What are the symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis in heart arteries?

Symptoms may include chest pain or pressure (angina).

  1. What lifestyle changes can help prevent or treat atherosclerosis?

Quitting smoking, eating healthy foods, regular exercise, and maintaining weight are beneficial.

  1. What are some risk factors for developing hardening of the arteries?

Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking, family history of heart disease, and lack of exercise.

  1. How does inflammation contribute to the development of atherosclerosis?

Inflammation from diseases like arthritis or lupus can lead to damage in artery walls initiating plaque buildup.

  1. What diagnostic tests are used for detecting atherosclerosis?

Tests include blood tests for cholesterol levels, Doppler ultrasound for measuring blood flow speed in arteries, ECG for heart signals recording among others.

  1. What surgical procedures might be recommended for severe cases of atherosclerosis?

Procedures like angioplasty with stent placement or bypass surgery could be necessary for severe cases.

  1. How do antiplatelet medications work in preventing further blockage due to platelet clumping?

Antiplatelet drugs like aspirin reduce platelet aggregation preventing formation of clots in narrowed arteries.

  1. What alternative medicine options might help reduce high cholesterol levels associated with atherosclerosis?

Supplements like Omega 3 fatty acids or garlic could aid in reducing high cholesterol levels with physician approval.

  1. How can relaxation techniques like yoga benefit individuals with a risk of developing atherosclerosis?

Relaxation techniques help reduce stress levels which temporarily lower blood pressure reducing risks associated with developing arterial plaques.