Symptoms and Signs of Hardening of the Arteries (Atherosclerosis)

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Medically Reviewed on 9/16/2022

Doctor's Notes on Hardening of the Arteries (Atherosclerosis)

Atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries,” is a long-term process that leads to the narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. This narrowing, in turn, causes a reduction in blood flow to certain areas of the body. Factors that increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis include:

Atherosclerosis is responsible for coronary artery disease (angina and heart attacks) and strokes.  

Symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on the particular artery that is affected:

  • In coronary artery disease, associated symptoms can include chest pain either at rest or during exercise
  • heart attack may be associated with a feeling of crushing or pressure in the chest. 
  • Symptoms associated with stroke include sudden numbness, weakness, confusion, trouble walking, or vision disturbances.

What Is the Treatment for Atherosclerosis?

Treatment for hardening of the arteries cannot improve the condition, but it may slow the progression of the disease and help prevent complications. 

  • Diet, exercise, and smoking cessation can help prevent the disease from worsening
  • Medications may be used to help lower blood pressure or reduce the workload on the heart
  • Statins can help lower blood lipid levels, and anticoagulant medications can help prevent blood clots and their consequences
  • More invasive treatment methods include stent placement, endarterectomy (removing a clot from an artery), or coronary artery bypass surgery

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.