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What're the symptoms of atherosclerosis?

There are usually no symptoms until one or more arteries are so clogged with plaque that blood flow is severely reduced. This reduced flow of blood and oxygen to some part of the body (such as the heart) is called ischemia and may cause pain or discomfort. Some people have no symptoms until a blood clot forms, completely blocks an already narrowed artery, and causes a heart attack or stroke. The signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis may develop gradually and may be few, as the

plaque builds up in the artery. Symptoms may also vary depending on the affected artery. However, when a major artery is blocked, signs and symptoms may be severe, such as those occurring with heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or blood clot.

Symptoms depend on where the narrowing or blockage, which can occur almost anywhere in the body, is. If the arteries supplying the heart (coronary arteries) are narrowed, chest pain (angina) can result; if they are blocked, a heart attack can result. Abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure may also develop. Blockage in the arteries supplying the brain (carotid arteries) can cause a stroke. Narrowing of the arteries in the legs can cause leg cramps. In people older than 55, the arteries supplying one or both kidneys may become narrowed or blocked, sometimes causing kidney failure or dangerously high blood pressure (malignant hypertension (see High Blood Pressure)).

Symptoms occur because as atherosclerosis narrows an artery more and more, tissues supplied by the artery may not receive enough blood and oxygen. The first symptom of a narrowing artery may be pain or cramps at times when blood flow cannot keep up with the tissues' need for oxygen. For instance, during exercise, a person may feel chest pain because the oxygen supply to the heart is inadequate; while walking, a person may feel leg cramps because the oxygen supply to the legs is inadequate.

Typically, symptoms develop gradually as the atheroma slowly narrows an artery. However, sometimes the first symptoms occur suddenly because the blockage occurs suddenly—for example, when a blood clot lodges in an artery narrowed by an atheroma, causing a heart attack or stroke.

More information on atherosclerosis

What is atherosclerosis? - Atherosclerosis is a stage of arteriosclerosis involving fatty deposits inside the arterial walls. Atherosclerosis can lead to stroke, heart attack, eye problems, and kidney problems.
How does the atherosclerosis develop? - Atherosclerosis is a gradual process that occurs when cholesterol collects under the inner lining of artery walls due to damage from uncontrolled high blood pressure.
What causes atherosclerosis? - Atherosclerosis is caused by a response to damage to the endothelium from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking.
What're the risk factors for atherosclerosis? - There are several risk factors that contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, some which can be controlled, and some that cannot.
What're the symptoms of atherosclerosis? - Symptoms of atherosclerosis include the deposition of atheromatous plaques containing cholesterol and lipids on the innermost layer of the walls of large and medium-sized arteries.
How is atherosclerosis diagnosed? - Atherosclerosis is usually diagnosed after other complications have arisen and another conditions has been diagnosed, such as coronary artery disease.
What're the treatments for atherosclerosis? - Medical treatments for atherosclerosis focus on the symptoms. Physical treatments include minimally invasive angioplasty procedures.
How atherosclerosis is prevented? - Prevention of atherosclerosis centers on reducing cholesterol, homocysteine level, keeping triglycerides in check, maintaining a healthful weight.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005