Atherosclerosis - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Atherosclerosis - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Published : Feb 03, 2024
Last Updated : Feb 06, 2024

What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fats, cholesterol and other substances build up on the inner walls of arteries. All these substances that build up in the arteries are called plaque. The plaque cause the narrowing and blocking of the arteries and affect the blood flow. Also, this buildup, called plaque, can burst, leading to a blood clot.

Atherosclerosis is also considered a heart problem and may affect arteries of any body part. It is a slow, progressive disease that can start in early childhood. The progression of Atherosclerosis can be rapid, but it can also be treated. With healthy lifestyle habits, one can prevent the risk of Atherosclerosis. 

Causes of Atherosclerosis

The exact cause of this slowly worsening disease is unknown, as it can begin in early childhood. However, a gradual buildup of plaque narrows and blocks the arteries. It may further cause damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery. The damage can appear under the following conditions-

  • Diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • High triglycerides(a type of fat (lipid) in the blood)
  • Inflammation due to an unknown cause or disease, such as lupus, arthritis, psoriasis or inflammatory bowel disease

Once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, blood cells and other substances collect at the injury site. Buildup in the artery's inner lining can usually be seen. Gradually, fats, cholesterol and other substances keep piling on the inner walls of the heart arteries. 

Symptoms of Atherosclerosis

Usually, Mild Atherosclerosis doesn't induce any symptoms. Atherosclerosis does not appear to happen until an artery gets narrowed or clogged. And unless it can't supply adequate blood to organs and tissues. Sometimes a blood clot can completely block the blood flow when the artery is already affected by Atherosclerosis. The clot may break apart, and it can lead to the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. 

Symptoms of moderate to severe Atherosclerosis usually depend on which arteries are affected. For example-

  • Having Atherosclerosis in the heart arteries- 
  • It may contribute to problems like chest pain or pressure(angina)
  • If Atherosclerosis affects the arteries leading to the brain-
  • You can experience sudden numbness or weakness in your arms, legs
  • Temporary loss of vision in one eye
  • Difficulty in speaking or slurred or slow speech
  • Drooping of facial muscles

These symptoms signal a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Untreated, TIA can lead to the risk of having a stroke.

Having Atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to the kidneys-

It may develop problems like high blood pressure or lead to kidney failure.

Atherosclerosis affecting the arteries in your arms and legs-

When Arhteroclerosis affects the arteries in your arms and legs, It may have symptoms of peripheral artery disease. Such a condition can cause leg pain during walking(Claudication) or decrease blood pressure in the affected limb. 

Risk factors for Atherosclerosis 

Atherosclerosis may cause hardening of the arteries over time. Aging is also among the common risk factor for this arterial disease. Also, some other factors that can increase the risk of Atherosclerosis include-


  • An unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • A family history of early heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Obesity
  • Light levels of C-reactive protein(CRP),(maker of inflammation)
  • Smoking and use of tobacco

When to see a doctor

If you find out that you have Atherosclerosis, please talk to a healthcare provider soon. You can suspect it by paying attention to its early symptoms, which can be caused due to a lack of blood flow. Usually, you may experience chest pain(angina), leg pain or numbness-like symptoms. 

Early diagnosis and treatment may help stop Atherosclerosis from getting worse. Also, it will help to prevent life-threatening conditions like heart attack, stroke or other medical emergencies led by Atherosclerosis. 

Treatment options for Atherosclerosis

Following treatment options are suggested depending on the severity of the Atherosclerosis. Treatment for Atherosclerosis includes lifestyle changes, medications and surgery.

Lifestyle changes

  • Quitting the habit of smoking
  • lowering high cholesterol levels
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Doing exercise
  • Healthy dietary habits 
  • Preventing the risk of high blood pressure 

One can adopt These lifestyle changes to reduce the risk factors for Atherosclerosis.


These are some medications used to treat Atherosclerosis-

  • Antiplatelet drugs
  • Anticoagulants
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications
  • Blood pressure medications

Surgical treatments

These are some surgical methods that help to reduce the risk caused by Atherosclerosis-

Coronary angioplasty

This surgical treatment is done with different methods, including-

  • Balloon angioplasty
  • Laser angioplasty
  • Atherectomy
  • Coronary artery stent

Coronary artery bypass

Can Atherosclerosis be prevented?

Taking prevention for the risk factors that lead to Atherosclerosis can prevent or delay it from happening. A healthy diet, weight loss, being physically active, and stopping Habits of smoking can help reduce the risk factor of Atherosclerosis. 

If you are at risk for Atherosclerosis due to a family history of heart disease or conditions like high cholesterol, it is essential to discuss it with a doctor. Take medications and other treatments suggested by them to prevent the complications caused by Atherosclerosis. 

Does Atherosclerosis cause erectile dysfunction?

Condition like Atherosclerosis is among the primary cause of sexual problems like Erectile dysfunction. To maintain erectile function, adequate blood flow into the corpus cavernosum is essential. But, Atherosclerosis can bring constructions among the blood vessels around the penile region, which may lead to complications like Ed.

Can you take Viagra with Atherosclerosis?

Erectile dysfunction medication like Viagra(Sildenafil) can be taken with Atherosclerosis. It is safe to use in stable cardiovascular disease. Certain drugs used to treat cardiovascular diseases, such as heart failure, hypertension, and coronary artery disease, can interact with Viagra. Combined use of these medications may have a severe impact on health. Thus professional medical advice is essential before using any of these prescription drugs.