Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
(603) 742-5252
Decrease (-) Restore Default Increase (+) font size
Physicians
Site Search

Carotid stenosis, X-ray of the left artery
Carotid stenosis, X-ray of the left artery


Carotid stenosis, X-ray of the right artery
Carotid stenosis, X-ray of the right artery


Enlarged view of atherosclerosis
Enlarged view of atherosclerosis


Prevention of heart disease
Prevention of heart disease


Developmental process of atherosclerosis
Developmental process of atherosclerosis


Angina
Angina


Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis


Cholesterol producers
Cholesterol producers


Coronary artery balloon angioplasty - series
Coronary artery balloon angioplasty - series


Definition:

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty material collects along the walls of arteries. This fatty material thickens, hardens (forms calcium deposits), and may eventually block the arteries.

Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis. The two terms are often used to mean the same thing.



Alternative Names:

Arteriosclerosis; Hardening of the arteries; Plaque buildup - arteries



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Atherosclerosis is a common disorder of the arteries. It occurs when fat , cholesterol, and other substances build up in the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques.

Eventually, the plaques can make the artery narrow and less flexible, making it harder for blood to flow. If the coronary arteries become narrow, blood flow to the heart can slow down or stop. This can cause chest pain (stable angina ), shortness of breath, heart attack , and other symptoms.

Pieces of plaque can break off and move through the bloodstream (embolization). This is a common cause of heart attack and stroke. Blood clots can also form around a tear (fissure) in the plaque. Clots block blood flow. If the clot moves into an artery in the heart, lungs, or brain, it can cause a stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism .

Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:

Atherosclerosis can affect many different organ systems, including the heart, lungs, brain, intestines, kidneys, and limbs (extremities).



Symptoms:

Symptoms usually do not occur until blood flow becomes restricted or blocked.

See the specific condition for more details on symptoms:



Signs and tests:

A health care provider will perform a physical exam and listen to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Atherosclerosis can create a whooshing or blowing sound ("bruit") over an artery.

Tests that may be used to diagnose atherosclerosis or its complications include:



Treatment:

To help prevent atherosclerosis or its complications (such as heart disease and stroke), make the following lifestyle changes:

  • Avoid fatty foods. Eat well-balanced meals that are low in fat and cholesterol. Include several daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Adding fish to your diet at least twice a week may be helpful. However, do not eat fried fish.
  • Do not drink more than one or two alcoholic drinks a day.
  • Exercise regularly for 30 minutes a day if you are not overweight, and for 60 - 90 minutes a day if you are overweight.

Get your blood presure checked every 1 - 2 years, especially if high blood pressure runs in your family. Have your blood pressure checked more often if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or you have had a stroke. Talk to your doctor.

  • Everyone should keep their blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg
  • If you have diabetes or have had a stroke or heart attack, your blood pressure should probably be less than 130/80 mm/Hg. Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be.

Have your cholesterol checked and treated if it is high.

See: High cholesterol and triglycerides

  • Adults should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. If you are being treated for high cholesterol, you will need to have it checked more often.
  • All adults should keep their LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels below 130-160 mg/dL.
  • If you have diabetes, heart disease, or hardening of the arteries somewhere else in your body, your LDL cholesterol should be lower than 100 mg/dL.
  • Few medications have been found to clear up plaque. Statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs can help prevent more plaque from forming.

Your doctor may suggest taking aspirin or another drug called clopidogrel (Plavix) to help prevent blood clots from forming in your arteries. These medicines are called antiplatelet drugs. DO NOT take aspirin without first talking to your doctor.

Talk to your doctor about the safety of hormone replacement therapy for menopause.

Guidelines no longer recommend vitamins E or C, antioxidants, or folic acid to prevent heart disease.

A number of surgeries are performed to help prevent the complications of atherosclerosis. Some of these are:



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Everyone starts to develop some amount of atherosclerosis as they grow older. In some people, the condition can cause complications such as a heart attack or stroke.



Complications:

Calling your health care provider:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are at risk for atherosclerosis, especially if you have symptoms.

Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise plan, especially if you have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease or you have ever had a heart attack.



References:

Goldstein LB. Prevention and management of stroke. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 58.

Fuster V. Atherosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 69.

Mosca L, Banka CL, Benjamin EJ, et al. Evidence-Based Guidelines for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in Women: 2007 Update. Circulation. 2007; 115: 1481-1501.




Review Date: 5/2/2009
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com


Find What You Need

Events
Careers
Foundation
About Us
Contact
Directions
News
Social Media Agreement
Joint Notice
Web Privacy Policy
WDH Staff Portal

Centers & Services

Cancer Center
Cardiovascular Care
Joint Replacement
Women & Children's
Physician Offices
Other Services

Conditions & Treatments

Health Library

Support Services

Support Groups
Care-Van
Dental Center
Social Work
Food & Nutrition
Integrative Wellness
Spiritual Care
Concerns & Grievances
Homecare and Hospice

For Patients

Pay Your Bill Online
Pricing Estimates
Financial Assistance
Interpreter Services
Surgery Preparation
Medical Record Request
Advance Directives
Clinical Research & Trials

For Healthcare Professionals

Work and Life
Financial Well-Being
Career and Growth

The Wentworth-Douglass Health System includes:

 

Address

Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100