What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a disease that causes hardening and narrowing of your arteries. As the main underlying cause of cardiovascular disease – the number one cause of death in Australia and the world – it can also lead to heart attack, stroke and other devastating long-term consequences.

Atherosclerosis is also commonly known as hardening of the arteries. It can occur in any artery but is most serious when it reduces or blocks blood supply to the heart (resulting in heart attack), the brain (causing a stroke) or the limbs (leading to peripheral artery disease). 

What causes Atherosclerosis?

The build-up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances creates plaques inside arteries (the blood vessels carrying blood from the heart throughout the body). As these fatty plaques build up in the walls of arteries, over time they harden and restrict the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs and other parts of the body. When these plaques break open, they form a blood clot that can limit or block blood flow altogether, with potentially fatal consequences.

There are many factors that may put you at higher risk of developing Atherosclerosis:

  • Being over aged 40

  • Gender (men are at higher risk)

  • Race

  • Family history

  • Smoking

  • High blood pressure

  • High amounts of cholesterol or sugar in the blood

  • High levels of inflammation as the body responds to injury or infection

  • Obesity

  • Lack of physical activity

  • Mental health issues

  • Stress  

What are the symptoms of Atherosclerosis?

It’s common for people with Atherosclerosis to have no symptoms until the disease is very advanced and the arteries are significantly narrowed. Whether you have symptoms also depends on which arteries are affected. For example, chest pain may suggest that arteries of the heart are affected, while leg pain may indicate arteries of the legs are affected. 

How is Atherosclerosis diagnosed?

Atherosclerosis can be confirmed by a vascular surgeon who will ask questions about your symptoms and medical history, take blood and perform additional tests to understand more about how the disease is affecting you. These tests may include a treadmill test, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI or angiogram.

How is Atherosclerosis treated?

There are many things you can do to improve your condition if diagnosed with Atherosclerosis. Your vascular surgeon will advise the most appropriate treatment for you. These may include:

  • Changes in behaviour or diet

  • Medications to manage high blood pressure or high cholesterol

  • Surgery is an option if required (including angioplasty or stenting; or surgical bypass)


How do I prevent Atherosclerosis?

You can prevent Atherosclerosis-related disease with even small changes to your diet and lifestyle. Five things you can do straight away to improve your overall health include:

  1. Stop smoking – find a program that works for you and stop smoking today

  2. Eat a healthy diet – reduce your salt and fat intake

  3. Look after yourself – work with your doctor to control blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol levels

  4. Reduce stress – manage your stress levels

  5. Keep active – maintain a healthy weight and be more active in your day to day life

Have More questions?

If you have more questions about Atherosclerosis or Cardiovascular Disease, speak to the team at Vascular Associates.