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What Is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a kind of disease in which arterial blood vessels get affected. In this disease hardening or furring of arteries takes place as a result of the formation of plaques inside the arteries. This plaque consists of three different parts, namely:

1. Atheroma, the soft yellow material composed of macrophages near the lumen of the arteries

2. Cholesterol

3. Calcium deposits

The term “Atherosclerosis” should not be confused with “Arteriosclerosis” as in arteriosclerosis only medium or large arteries get affected (hardened) whereas atherosclerosis refers to the hardening of any artery- be it small, medium or major. Thus atherosclerosis is a form of arteriosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis leads to two severe complications. First, it results in the narrowing of the arteries or stenosis, which results in the less flow of blood to the organ it get into. Secondly, it creates aneurysm. Aneursym is the blood filled bulge in the blood vessels created due to the disease. It can burst at any time which can be fatal at times.

All these complications do not happen suddenly rather they take time making the problem chronic. The most advanced stages of the hardening of the arteries are known as coronary thrombosis and claudication. Thrombosis sometimes causes myocardial infarction or heart attack. Claudication results in the insufficient supply of blood to the legs. Moreover, it can happen to the other parts of the body such as kidney, intestine and brain.


Atherosclerosis usually starts in adolescent stage and affects some major arteries. But the problem is that it can not be detected during lifetime. It becomes symptomatic only when it affects coronary or cerebral circulation cutting the supply of blood to the heart and brain. This is why atherosclerosis is called the most potent cause of the heart stroke, heart attacks, heart congestion or cardiovascular diseases as a whole.

According to a study conducted in America, sudden cardiac arrest was found to be the first symptom of atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases in almost 62 per cent of males and 43 per cent of females. Cardiac stress testing can detect the less flow of blood or lumen narrowing. Nuclear test method is another means to detect this disease.

Risk factors for atherosclerosis:

Some anatomic, physiological and behavioral factors (congenital, acquired or modified) are:

1. High cholesterol level

2. Advanced age

3. Diabetes

4. High blood pressure

5. Smoking

6. High serum level of uric acid

7. Male sex hormone

8. High intake of saturated fat