Modern Heart and Vascular


All You Need to Know About Atherosclerosis

All You Need to Know About Atherosclerosis

All You Need to Know About Atherosclerosis

Sometimes people use the terms arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis to refer to the same thing, but there is a difference between them; they represent slightly different conditions.

Atherosclerosis is a particular kind of arteriosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when a buildup of plaque causes a narrowing of the arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that distribute oxygen and nutrients from your heart toward the rest of the body.

Even though we frequently think of atherosclerosis as a heart problem, it may affect any artery in the body. Individuals may treat this condition, and healthy lifestyle habits may help prevent it.

Fat, cholesterol, and calcium can build up in your arteries and form plaque as you age. Plaque buildup makes it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries. Such buildup may happen in any artery in your body, including around your heart, brain, kidneys, and legs.

This situation may result in a shortage of blood and oxygen to various tissues. Pieces of plaque may also break off, causing a blood clot. If the individual does not treat atherosclerosis, it may lead to heart attack, stroke, or heart failure, among other conditions.

Atherosclerosis is a frequent problem associated with aging. Fortunately, this condition is preventable, and many successful treatment options exist.


Most atherosclerosis symptoms do not appear until a blockage occurs. Typical signs or symptoms include the following:

  • Pain in the arm, leg, and anywhere else that has a blocked artery
  • Angina or chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cramping in the buttocks when walking
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness in the legs due to lack of circulation
  • Confusion, which happens if the blockage affects circulation to the brain
  • Loss of motor or sensory activity on one side of the body, which happens if the blockage affects circulation to the brain

Knowing the symptoms and signs of a stroke and heart attack is also essential. Atherosclerosis may cause both, and an individual suffering from them may require immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of stroke include the following:

  • Trouble speaking
  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Numbness, weakness, or dullness in the limbs or face
  • Vision difficulties
  • Severe, sudden headache
  • Loss of balance

Symptoms and signs of a heart attack include the following:

  • Pain in the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, and arms
  • Discomfort or chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • A sense of imminent death

Strokes and heart attacks are medical emergencies. Always call 911 or local emergency services and go to a hospital emergency room immediately or as soon as possible if you experience signs or symptoms of a stroke or heart attack.


When plaque builds up and your arteries become stiff and swollen, blood has trouble flowing through them toward the rest of your body. This event prevents your organs and tissues from getting the required oxygenated blood.

The following are typical causes of hardening of the arteries:


Cholesterol is a waxy yellow substance that exists naturally in your body and in certain foods we eat.

If cholesterol levels in your blood are too high, it may block your arteries. It becomes a hard plaque that limits or obstructs blood flow to the heart and other organs.


It is essential to eat a healthy diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises that you follow an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes the following foods:

  • Whole grains
  • A wide range of vegetables and fruits
  • Fish and poultry (skinless)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Legumes and nuts
  • Non-tropical vegetable oils, such as sunflower or olive oil

Some other dietary tips include the following:

  • Avoid beverages and foods with added sugar, such as sweets, sugary drinks, and desserts. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises no more than six teaspoons or one hundred calories of sugar a day for most females and no more than nine teaspoons or one hundred and fifty calories a day for most males.
  • Avoid foods high in salt or sodium. Try to have no more than two thousand and three hundred milligrams of sodium daily. Ideally, you would consume at most one thousand and five hundred milligrams daily.
  • Avoid foods elevated in unhealthy fats, such as trans fats. Substitute unhealthy fats with unsaturated fats, which are better for you. If you need to lower blood cholesterol, reduce saturated fats to no more than five to six percent of total calories. For someone eating two thousand calories a day, that is about thirteen grams of saturated fat.


As we age, the heart and blood vessels work harder to pump and receive blood. As a result, the arteries may harden and become less stretchy and flexible, making them more susceptible to plaque buildup.


Your physician will perform a physical exam if you have symptoms or signs of atherosclerosis. Physicians will look for the following:

  • An aneurysm, or an unusual or irregular bulging or widening of an artery due to fragility of the artery wall
  • A weakened pulse
  • A murmur or whooshing sound that the blood generates as it transits through the blocked artery
  • Slow healing of wounds, indicating restricted blood flow

A cardiologist may attend to your heart to determine if you have any unusual sounds. Physicians will order more tests if they think you may have atherosclerosis.

Tests may include the following:

  • A blood test to monitor your cholesterol levels
  • An ankle-branchial index that searches for a blockage in your legs or arms by comparing the blood pressure in each limb
  • A Doppler ultrasound that uses sound waves to create a picture of the artery to show if there is a blockage
  • A computed tomography angiography or magnetic resonance angiography that creates pictures of the large arteries in your body
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) that measures the electrical activity in your heart to look for any areas of decreased blood flow
  • A cardiac angiogram which is a type of chest x-ray taken after being injected with a radioactive dye into the arteries of the heart
  • An exercise tolerance test or stress test that monitors your blood pressure and heart rate while exercising on a stationary bike or treadmill


Atherosclerosis treatment involves changing your lifestyle to lower the fat and cholesterol you eat, such as exercising more to improve your blood vessels and heart health.

Your physician may suggest lifestyle changes as the first line of treatment. However, you may also need medical solutions like medications or surgery.

  • MEDICATION                        

Medication may help prevent atherosclerosis from getting worse, and they include:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins)
  • ACE inhibitors (lower blood pressure beta-blockers)
  • Antiplatelet medications (aspirin)

Aspirin may be effective for individuals with a history of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes)


Surgery may be necessary if symptoms are especially severe or if skin or muscle tissue is at risk.

Possible surgeries to treat atherosclerosis include the following:

  • Bypass surgery
  • Percutaneous coronary intervention and angioplasty
  • Thrombolytic therapy
  • Endarterectomy
  • Atherectomy



Many factors put you at risk for atherosclerosis. You can change some risk factors but others not.


If someone in your family has atherosclerosis, you may be at risk because you may inherit this condition and other heart-related problems.


Regular exercise is good for your heart because it keeps the heart muscle strong and stimulates oxygen and blood flow.

Lack of exercise increases the risk of various medical conditions, including heart disease.


High blood pressure may damage blood vessels weakening them in some areas. In addition, cholesterol and other substances in the blood may decrease the flexibility of arteries over time.


Smoking may damage blood vessels and the heart.


Individuals with diabetes have a much higher incidence of coronary artery disease.


Atherosclerosis may cause the following:

  • Myocardial infarction
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Abnormal heart rhythm

Atherosclerosis also results in the following diseases:

  • Carotid artery disease
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Peripheral Artery Disease
  • Kidney disease

Atherosclerosis of these arteries may progress into kidney failure.


The following lifestyle changes may help prevent and treat atherosclerosis (especially for individuals with type 2 diabetes):

  • Ingesting a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fats
  • Avoiding fatty foods
  • Eating fish twice a week instead of red meat
  • Exercising more
  • Quitting smoking (if you smoke)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight for you
  • Managing stress
  • Treating conditions associated with atherosclerosis (hypertension, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity)

You may see an improvement in your health with treatment, but it may take time. The success of your treatment process will depend on the following:

  • How quickly you treat it
  • The severity of your condition
  • Whether other organs are damaged or affected

Work closely with your physician to make appropriate lifestyle changes and find the proper medications to control your condition avoiding complications.

At Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, we do not attempt to replace the medical advice of your physician.

Visit Modern Heart and Vascular Institute for high-quality primary care close to home. Call 832-644-8930 to schedule your appointment today.

We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice. For more information, contact us.

Every heart has a story… What’s yours?

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Modern Heart and Vascular, a preventive cardiology medical practice, has several offices around Houston. We have locations in Humble, Cleveland, The Woodlands, Katy, and Livingston.

We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice.

Every heart has a story… What’s yours?

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At the Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, we offer state-of-the-art cardiovascular care with innovative diagnostic tools and compassionate patient care. Our priority at Modern Heart and Vascular Institute is prevention. We help patients lead healthier lives by avoiding unnecessary procedures and surgeries.

Contact us online to learn more and book an appointment. If you’d like to learn more about our practice, read our providers’ bios.

This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.

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