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Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in the walls of arteries. This build up causes the artery to narrow which restricts the flow of oxygen rich blood.

The exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown. However, studies show that atherosclerosis is a slow, complex disease that may start in childhood. It develops faster as you age.

 

There are certain risk factors associated with the development of atherosclerosis. The number one risk factor is smoking. Other factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Atherosclerosis can form in any artery in the body.

Plaque build up in the arteries around the heart is called coronary artery disease. When plaque build up occurs anywhere else in the body, it is called peripheral arterial disease. Blockage in the arteries in the neck is called carotid artery disease.

Plaque build up in the aorta tends to lead to a different problem called aneurysm. The pressure in the aorta is so great that when the arterial walls become more rigid from this disease, the walls begin to swell like a balloon.

Atherosclerosis is typically first diagnosed during a physical exam with a primary care doctor. When your doctor is listening to your arteries, they may hear a whoosh sound, called a bruit. This sound is an indication of the presence of atherosclerosis.

 

The doctor may then order an ultrasound or CT scan to confirm the atherosclerotic build up. A test called an angiogram is considered the gold standard for diagnosing the disease.