Health A-Z


Clinical Definition

Atherosclerosis is an accumulation of plaque in the arterial walls, causing stenosis and sometimes leading to ischemia, with chest pain and myocardial infarctions, cerebral infarcts and vascular dementia. The origin is probably endothelial injury, with contributions from hypertension, hyperlipidemia, hyperhomocysteinemia, inflammation, obesity and sedentary lifestyle. Treatments include medication, lifestyle changes, surgery and other procedures.

In Our Own Words

Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is the accumulation of cholesterol, fatty cells and inflammatory deposits (collectively known as plaque) on the walls of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is the reason for heart attacks and strokes in most cases, and it’s a disease process that can affect the arteries in the heart, brain, kidneys, legs and elsewhere. Plaques can get too big and block blood flow; they can also rupture and form clots to cause heart attacks, strokes and dementia. Lifestyle changes, such as stopping tobacco use, eating a low-cholesterol, low-fat diet and exercising, can help the condition. Medications and interventions are the two main forms of treatment. Medicines to treat high blood pressure or high cholesterol may be needed. Interventions include procedures such as angioplasty and surgeries such as coronary artery bypass surgery.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Pain (chest, shoulder, arm, elsewhere)
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
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