Atherosclerosis is a disease process leading to hardening and narrowing (stenosis) of your arteries. The buildup of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances creates plaques inside arteries, which can lead to serious problems including heart attack, stroke, amputation and death.

Serious, possibly fatal 

Atherosclerosis-related diseases are the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. Roughly 5 million people in the U.S. are affected.

Preventable - even small changes can help 

Stopping smoking, following a healthy diet, managing cholesterol and staying physically active all decrease the risk of atherosclerosis and improve your overall health.

How would you know if you have Atherosclerosis?

Until the arteries narrow significantly, many people experience no symptoms. Symptoms often appear only when the disease is advanced, and vary with the types of arteries affected. 

Chest Pain  

Pain in the chest leading to angina or possibly a heart attack may indicate arteries of the heart are affected. Pain in the legs while walking may indicate arteries of the legs are affected. 


A mini-stroke or stroke may occur if arteries of the neck are affected.

What causes Atherosclerosis?

A variety of characteristics and behaviors called risk factors may contribute to atherosclerosis. 

Some risk factors cannot be changed 

Age, male gender, race and family history can put you at a higher risk.  

Other risk factors can be managed 

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High amounts of cholesterol in the blood
  • High amounts of 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

Tests May Be Recommended

An initial step in the diagnosis of atherosclerosis is to have a history and physical by your primary care physician. They may recommend you see a board certified vascular surgeon for an additional evaluation.

Depending on your symptoms and the findings at the time of your history and physical additional tests may be ordered such as:

  • Treadmill test
  • Ultrasound
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Angiogram

Managing Atherosclerosis

  • The first phase for treating early PAD is medical care. Risk factors should be aggressively treated - especially smoking cessation 80-90% of patients that reliably follow a conservative plan of care will avoid the need for vascular surgery.
  • If you are smoker - stop now.
  • Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Watch your weight
  • Increase activity: You don’t have to run 10 miles /day or bike long distances, merely walking 30-45 minutes/day will provide you with tremendous health benefits.
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • See your regular doctor or vascular surgeon at regularly scheduled intervals to keep small problems small!
Content reprinted with permission from the Society for Vascular Surgery® (SVS).


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