Atherosclerosis

Also known as arteriosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a condition where the blood flow through your arteries is restricted by hardened or narrowed arteries, due to a build up of plaque.

What is atherosclerosis?

A disease where plaque (fatty deposits called atheroma) build up on the walls of your arteries, which can harden them and restrict or block blood flow. If atherosclerosis is not treated, it can lead to more serious conditions such as a heart attack, stroke or peripheral arterial disease.

There are a number of treatment options and lifestyle changes that can improve the condition.

Need to know

  • What are the symptoms of atherosclerosis ? icon plus

    Many people have no symptoms initially. The most common symptom is chest pain or angina, which is a heaviness, tightness or dull pain in the chest. The feeling doesn't last long, but it can radiate through your left arm, back or neck.

    Other symptoms related to a lack of efficient blood flow can include shortness of breath, fatigue and leg pain. In more serious cases, atherosclerosis can lead to a heart attack (myocardial infarction), which can cause permanent heart muscle damage and may be fatal if not treated.

    If you think you're having a heart attack, or have heart pain lasting over 15 minutes, you should call 999.
  • How is atherosclerosis diagnosed? icon plus

    Cardiovascular disease can often be detected during a general health check. If your GP or consultant thinks you may be at risk of atherosclerosis, they will ask about your symptoms, medical background, lifestyle and family history of heart disease. They may also check your cholesterol levels with a blood test.

    Other tests may include:

    • an ECG to measure your heart's electrical activity
    • a cardiac stress test to check your heart function under the strain of exercise
    • an echocardiogram to visualise your heart's valves and chambers
    • an invasive or non-invasive coronary angiogram to examine the arteries and the extent of any narrowing or blockage
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Treatment will depend on the extent of your condition and its underlying cause. For example, if you have high cholesterol, you can take a drug called a statin to lower it.

    Other treatment options may include:

    • medication to treat your symptoms and reduce the strain on your heart
    • angioplasty, where the narrowed section of your artery is widened by inflating a tiny balloon inside it
    • a bypass graft, where a blood vessel is taken from another part of your body and used to bypass the blockage in your artery
    • endarterectomy, where your surgeon directly removes the plaque causing the blockage.

    Your consultant will work with you to determine the best treatment and may suggest lifestyle changes to improve the condition.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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