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What Complications can Atherosclerosis Cause?

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Aug 24, 2022

What Complications can Atherosclerosis Cause?

Atherosclerosis, is a disease that causes a buildup of plaque, or cholesterol, and fat inside a person’s blood vessels. Eventually, this can restrict or completely block blood flow, and can lead to cardiovascular disease.

According to the WHO, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. To put it into perspective, about 17.9 million people die from cardiovascular diseases each year, accounting for about 31% of deaths worldwide.

Here are some of the possible atherosclerosis complications and diseases to watch out for.

Atherosclerosis Complications to Watch out For


An aneurysm is a bulge that forms along a weak spot in a person’s artery. These weak spots can be caused by high blood pressure or hypertension, and often appear in a person’s chest, abdomen, or brain.

Eventually, the blood vessel weakens to a point that the aneurysm can pop or rupture. This could cause severe damage, especially if it happens in the brain.

One of the symptoms of atherosclerosis is hypertension. So a person diagnosed with atherosclerosis is more prone to having an aneurysm as a result.


The brain is arguably one of the most important organs in the body. So of course, having adequate blood flow to the brain is essential to make sure that it functions well.

If the blood flow to the brain is cut off, usually because of a blood clot, then it can potentially cause a stroke. When blood supply is interrupted, brain cells can die, causing severe damage to a person’s brain.

There are three types of stroke:

  • Thrombotic stroke, or when a buildup of plaque forms in one of the arteries in the brain and causes a blockage when it becomes large enough.
  • Embolic stroke, or when a blood clot from somewhere else in the body travels to the brain and blocks the flow of blood.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke, or when a blood vessel in a person’s brain suddenly ruptures. This could also be caused by an aneurysm that develops in the brain.

Strokes are serious health emergencies, and it would be best to call emergency services in order to get treated as soon as possible. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the higher the risk of even more damage, even death.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

Another cardiovascular disease caused by atherosclerosis is coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease (CAD). This happens when plaque starts to develop inside the coronary arteries, or the arteries that supply blood to the heart.

This plaque hampers the flow of blood to the heart, causing the muscles to not work as efficiently. This can cause chest pain or angina, and can even lead to a heart attack if it cuts off the blood flow completely.

Heart Attack

Heart attacks happen whenever the blood supply to the heart suddenly stops, which is one complication that could happen if a person gets diagnosed with atherosclerosis.

It is a cardiovascular disease that happens when blood supply to a part of the heart gets cut off completely.

What happens is that as the plaque in an artery builds up, there is a possibility that it breaks off and turns into a blood clot. If the blood clot gets anywhere near the heart, it could cut off circulation and cause a heart attack.

Plaque buildup could also start directly in one of the coronary arteries in the heart, and could lead to a heart attack if left untreated.

Contrary to popular belief, not all heart attacks are sudden. Heart attacks can also develop over time, and are usually identified by chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Atherosclerosis can affect almost any artery in the body, including the ones that bring blood to the limbs.

When atherosclerosis restricts the blood flow in these arteries, it is referred to as peripheral artery disease or PAD.

Some people diagnosed with PAD suffer little to no symptoms at all initially, but it gets worse as the disease progresses. 

Here are some of the more common symptoms of PAD:

  • Pain in the legs when walking, also known as claudication
  • Feeling of numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Sores or wounds on the legs and feet that don’t heal or take a long time to heal
  • A weak pulse in the legs or feet
  • Hair loss on the legs or feet

As people grow older, the symptoms of PAD can get more and more evident, so it is important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Atherosclerosis can sometimes cause a blockage in the arteries that are going to the kidneys.

This restricts the flow of blood to the kidneys and can lead to more serious kidney problems as it progresses. This condition is also known as atherosclerotic renovascular disease or ARVD.

Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is a condition that occurs when either one or both kidneys does not function properly, or fails completely.

CKD can be caused by a number of things, and while it is not a cardiovascular disease per se, it can be caused by complications resulting from atherosclerosis. In addition, people diagnosed with CKD are more prone to having cardiovascular disease compared to those without CKD.

Key Takeaways

Atherosclerosis complications pose numerous health risks. But with early intervention and healthier lifestyle choices these dangers can be avoided.

Learn more about atherosclerosis, here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Aug 24, 2022

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