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Hardening of Arteries: Causes and Effects

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

Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Jul 05, 2021

Hardening of Arteries: Causes and Effects

When we say “hardening of arteries” it can also mean atherosclerosis, which is a chronic inflammatory disease of the arteries. This happens when plaque (cholesterol-filled deposits) builds up, over time, within their inner lining.

This build up will, over time, narrow or completely block the arteries. This can lead to coronary artery disease. Eventually, it can cause heart attacks, strokes, chronic kidney disease, or peripheral artery disease.

hardening of arteries

Hardening of Arteries: Causes of Atherosclerosis

To current medical literature, the exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown.

Atherosclerosis is a disease that develops slowly, and in some cases may begin its pathogenesis at childhood. However, as patients age, its development becomes much more rapid.

The plaque that develops in atherosclerosis usually occurs in areas where the arteries are damaged and factors such as smoking, high blood cholesterol, hypertension, and insulin resistance or diabetes have been linked to this disease as it may damage the inner layers of arteries. 

Developing Atherosclerosis

Over time, the plaque may rupture, causing platelets to cluster at this site of injury. Here, they may form a blood clot which in turn, further narrows the artery.

With the narrowing of the artery, less blood is able to pass through. Hence, less oxygen is supplied to certain organs. So, depending on the affected artery, selected organs may be affected (e.g the heart, brain, or kidney).

Risk Factors for Developing Atherosclerosis

Certain traits, conditions, and/or lifestyle habits have been linked to the increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, which may both be controllable (such as cigarette smoking and diet) and uncontrollable (such as a genetic predisposition).

Controllable Risk Factors

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diets high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and sugar
  • Uncontrollable Risk factors

    • Hypertension
    • Diabetes
    • Older age
    • Family history of heart disease

    Hardening of Arteries: Effects of Atherosclerosis

    The effects of atherosclerosis depends on which artery is affected.

    Coronary Arteries

    When the Coronary Arteries is affected, there is decreased blood flow to oxygenate the muscles of the heart, which may lead to the development of ischemic heart disease.

    Carotid Arteries

    When the Carotid Arteries, which are responsible for delivering oxygenated blood to the brain, are affected patients will have symptoms of a stroke, a disease termed carotid heart disease.

    Peripheral Arteries

    When the Peripheral Arteries are affected, blood flow to specific extremities such as the arms, legs or pelvis may be impeded causing numbness, pain, and possible infection, a disease known as peripheral artery disease.

    Renal Arteries

    When the Renal Arteries are affected by atherosclerosis, the kidneys may become damaged, leading to the development of chronic kidney disease.

    Prevention and Management Tips

    The development of atherosclerosis can be mitigated by controlling the risk factors that may predispose patients to the development of the disease.

    This includes diet modification, increasing physical activity, cessation of alcohol consumption and smoking, and weight control.

    Those with other conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, should undergo medical management to control said conditions. 

    There is no cure for atherosclerosis, however there are treatment options available in order to control the disease and prevent its complications.

    Pharmacologic therapy in the form of statins decreases cholesterol levels in patients.

    Medications for managing hypertension, diabetes, thrombolytics, or anti-inflammatories may also be prescribed to patients depending on their presentation.

    In more severe cases, patients care offered several treatment procedures such as:

    • Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG) – A surgical procedure where arteries and veins from other parts of your body are used to bypass (create another route) the affected artery.
    • Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) – A procedure where a blocked or narrowed artery is opened to increase blood flow to the heart and relieve chest pain by inserting a small mesh called a stent in a artery to keep it open.
    • Carotid Endarterectomy – A surgical procedure that removes plaque build up in the carotid arteries, restoring blood flow to the brain and essentially preventing the development of a stroke.

    Key Takeaways

    Atherosclerosis, commonly known as “hardening of arteries,” is a chronic inflammatory condition that is a major health concern in the year 2020. Many patients aged 30-79 have  developed this condition.

    It may lead to several complications, such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and peripheral artery disease, if left untreated.

    However, the risk can minimized by adequate lifestyle changes as well as control of predisposing conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension.

    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 Tracey Romero · Updated Jul 05, 2021

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