Can Atherosclerosis Spread? Here's What You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Aug 15, 2022

    Can Atherosclerosis Spread? Here's What You Need to Know

    The arteries are the blood vessels responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the different parts of the body. When a person has atherosclerosis, fatty deposits called “plaque” build up in the arteries causing the thickening of the artery and making the channel narrow. When this happens, there is a decrease in blood flow, which results in less oxygen and nutrients reaching the organs. But can atherosclerosis spread? Find out here.

    Can atherosclerosis spread?

    Atherosclerosis can occur in almost any artery in the body. Therefore, atherosclerosis develops in the arteries supplying blood to the brain, kidneys, arms and legs. Can atherosclerosis spread? It does not spread from one organ to another, however it can occur in different organs aside from the heart.

    Can atherosclerosis spread? Symptoms of atherosclerosis

    The symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on what artery is affected.

    Coronary arteries

    Coronary arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. When atherosclerosis occurs in these blood vessels, a person might experience:

    • Abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmia)
    • Chest Pain (angina)
    • Coughing

    When blood supply is blocked in the coronary arteries, a person is highly prone to a heart attack.

    Renal arteries

    Blood in the kidneys is supplied by the renal arteries. When there is renal artery blockage or insufficient blood flow in the kidney, a person can manifest symptoms such as:

    • Loss of appetite
    • Swelling in the hands and feet (edema)
    • Fatigue
    • Numbness
    • Nausea

    Atherosclerosis in the renal arteries can result in chronic kidney failure.

    Carotid arteries

    Carotid arteries supply blood to the brain. Symptoms of blockage in the arteries leading to the brain include:

    • Paralysis
    • Dizziness
    • Severe headache
    • Breathing problems
    • Facial numbness
    • Loss of vision in one eye
    • Numbness in hands and feet

    Blockage in the carotid arteries or its branches can lead to a stroke.

    Peripheral arteries

    Peripheral arteries are the blood vessels supplying blood and nutrients to the arms, legs, and pelvis. Symptoms of blockage include:

    • Pain in the limbs especially when walking (claudication)
    • Numbness in the affected area
    • Decreased or weakened pulse in the feet
    • Discoloration or hyperpigmentation of the skin on the legs

    Peripheral artery diseases can develop when there is a decreased blood flow or blockage. This can cause the person to experience less sensitivity to heat and cold, and make them more prone to burns. Severe cases of the blockage may also cause gangrene, a type of tissue death caused by the lack of blood supply.

    Can atherosclerosis spread? Risk factors for atherosclerosis

    Atherosclerosis is slow and progresses over time. As plaque accumulates in the inner layers of the artery, blood flow becomes more restricted. Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include:

    • Smoking
    • Obesity
    • Physical inactivity
    • High cholesterol levels
    • High blood pressure
    • Sleep apnea
    • Family history of heart disease
    • An unhealthy diet

    Can atherosclerosis spread? Prevention of atherosclerosis

    Atherosclerosis is usually caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. Part of preventing plaque build-up in the arteries is to make healthier lifestyle choices especially when it comes to diet and physical activity.

    To prevent atherosclerosis, it is advised to:

    Eat a balanced diet

    Reduce the amount of meat, dairy and eggs in your diet. Be cautious with the amount of saturated fat present in processed food and check the nutrition label. Food high in saturated fat is not good for the arteries. Also, avoid food rich in salts and sugars. Incorporate servings of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in meals.

    Stop smoking

    Smoking can cause damage to the walls of the arteries, making it easier for plaque to build up. Smoking is not only limited to cigarettes and tobacco but also includes vaping, e-cigarettes and other non-tobacco products. Inhaling smoke can cause inflammation.

    Exercise regularly

    The best way to prevent atherosclerosis is to reduce the amount of fat in the body. Exercising regularly does not only burn fat, but can also improve metabolism, regulate blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. Pick an exercise routine that would suit one’s lifestyle. If a person is unsure of what exercise program is best for them, they can seek advice from a health care professional.

    Manage pre-existing conditions

    Having conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes can speed up the progression of atherosclerosis. Aside from having a healthy lifestyle, taking the necessary maintenance drugs and regular check-ups can also prevent the development and complications of atherosclerosis.

    Key takeaway

    Atherosclerosis is a condition wherein the arteries, the blood vessels supplying oxygenated blood, become narrow or blocked due to the build-up of fat deposits. The narrowing and blockage of the artery resulting in decreased blood flow, causing the organs such as the kidney and the heart to malfunction.

    Can atherosclerosis spread? It does not spread from one organ to another but it does develop in different areas in the body outside the heart. The symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on which artery is affected. Arteries that can be affected by atherosclerosis include the renal, coronary, carotid and peripheral arteries. Atherosclerosis is usually caused by poor lifestyle practices. Prevention revolves around staying healthy by eating a proper diet, quitting smoking and exercising regularly.

    Learn more about Atherosclerosis here.


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

    Medically reviewed by

    Mia Dacumos, MD

    Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

    Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Aug 15, 2022


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