Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood away from your heart and to vital organs.
Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The plaque buildup in atherosclerosis makes the arteries thick and stiff.
Read on to learn about the causes, risk factors, and treatment for each one.
What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory condition that involves buildup of plaque in your arteries. This plaque is made of substances such as cholesterol and fat.
As the plaque accumulates, it makes your arteries narrow. This lowers the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your vital organs.
What is arteriosclerosis?
Arteriosclerosis occurs when the walls of arteries become stiff and hard. This makes it harder for blood to flow through, which increases pressure.
If left untreated, arteriosclerosis can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension.
It can be difficult to identify atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis.
In the early stages, atherosclerosis typically causes no symptoms.
If you do have symptoms, it usually appears when you’re physically or emotionally stressed. That’s because your body needs more oxygen during these times.
Possible symptoms of atherosclerosis include:
- chest pain (angina)
- cold sweats
- fast heart rate
- shortness of breath
- cramping in buttocks while walking
- confusion (if blockage affects brain circulation)
- muscle weakness in legs (due to lack of circulation)
- pain in legs or arms
Arteriosclerosis also causes no symptoms, especially in the early stages.
Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are caused by different mechanisms.
Atherosclerosis is linked to damage of endothelial cells. These cells make up the inner lining of the artery.
When this happens, it leads to inflammation. This promotes the development of plaque.
Elastin fibers are proteins that make arterial walls elastic and flexible.
When elastic fibers are exposed to oxidative damage, they break apart and fray. This lowers the structured arrangement of elastin fibers.
As a result, the arterial wall becomes stiff, causing arteriosclerosis.
In general, atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis have different risk factors, but some overlap.
Atherosclerosis risk factors
The risk factors for atherosclerosis include:
- family history of atherosclerosis
- high blood cholesterol levels
- high blood pressure
- smoking tobacco
- high saturated fat intake
Arteriosclerosis risk factors
Aging is the main risk factor for arteriosclerosis.
Over time, the elastin fibers naturally lose their elasticity. This makes your arteries stiff and hard, potentially leading to arteriosclerosis.
Arteriosclerosis increases the risk of hypertension, eventually leading to atherosclerosis and other health conditions.
The treatment for atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis is similar.
It primarily involves healthy lifestyle habits that support the health and function of your arteries.
- Staying active: Exercise treats both conditions by improving endothelial function, inflammation, and arterial elasticity. It’s recommended to exercise 90 to 150 minutes per week.
- Eating heart-healthy foods: A heart-healthy diet is rich in monounsaturated fats, fruits, vegetables, and fiber. It’s also low in salt and saturated fat.
- Quitting cigarette smoking: If you smoke, quitting will help improve the health and function of your arteries. It’s also important to avoid secondhand smoke. Quitting is often difficult, but a doctor can help create a plan that works for you.
- Limiting alcohol: If you consume alcohol, drinking less will help. The recommendation for men and women is two and one drinks per day, respectively.
- Managing stress: Practicing stress management will improve your blood pressure and heart health.
- Taking prescription medication: If atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis leads to high cholesterol or high blood pressure, a doctor might prescribe medication.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential for overall physical health. It’s recommended to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis usually cause no symptoms until they’ve led to other health conditions.
So, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor for annual physical exams. These routine checkups will allow your doctor to determine if you’re at risk of developing either condition.
Additionally, you’ll be able to start treating the condition before it gets worse.
You should also see a doctor if you have:
- a family history of atherosclerosis or heart disease
- chest pain
- fast heart rate
- shortness of breath
- unexplained fatigue
- cold sweats
- difficulty breathing
It’s also a good idea to visit a doctor if you haven’t had your blood pressure or blood cholesterol measured in a long time.
To diagnose atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis, a doctor will use the following tests:
- Physical exam: A physical examination allows a doctor to identify physical symptoms, such as fast heart rate.
- Blood pressure: Your blood pressure can indicate if arteriosclerosis has developed or if you’re at risk of atherosclerosis.
- Family history: To determine your risk of developing either condition, a doctor will ask questions about your family history.
- Blood tests: This allows a doctor to check for risk factors for atherosclerosis, including high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, and diabetes.
It’s possible to reverse atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis before they lead to more serious conditions.
In both cases, it will involve healthy lifestyle habits and medication. These treatments will help lower plaque and inflammation in the arteries.
When managed properly, atherosclerosis can be reversed within 1 or 2 years.
If atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis have progressed to chronic disease, you many need surgery. The procedure depends on the disease and arteries affected.
- percutaneous coronary intervention
- coronary artery bypass grafting
- carotid endarterectomy
Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are often confused with each other, but they’re different conditions. Atherosclerosis happens when your arteries become narrow due to a buildup of plaque. It’s caused by inflammation in the arteries.
Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis, a condition in which your arteries become stiff. Arteriosclerosis is caused by elastin fibers in your arteries losing elasticity.
Both conditions cause no symptoms until they progress into serious conditions. So, the best way to prevent them is to practice healthy lifestyle habits and visit your doctor regularly.