What is Arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis (also known as cardiovascular arteriosclerosis) is a heart condition that occurs when arteries grow thick and stiff and restrict blood flow to organs and tissues in the body. This gradual process, also known as hardening of the arteries, weakens arteries and can develop in various organs, most commonly the heart. Arteries circulate blood throughout the body, but when plaque – fat, cholesterol and other cellular waste – build up on artery walls, arteriosclerosis can develop. 

Arteriosclerosis can develop into atherosclerosis, which can cause heart disease, strokes, circulation problems in the arms and legs, aneurysms that can cause life-threatening internal bleeding and chronic kidney disease.

Types of Arteriosclerosis

There are several types of arteriosclerosis. These types can lead to the development of various subtypes of the disorder if not properly treated. 

The three main types of arteriosclerosis include:

Atherosclerosis: In this type, the large arteries are hardened and narrowed.

Moenckeberg medial calcific sclerosis: The hardening of small to medium-sized arteries. 

Arteriolosclerosis: The calcification of small arteries.


Even as artery walls gradually thicken and stiffen, there usually are no arteriosclerosis symptoms. Even as the condition worsens into atherosclerosis, mild cases may still show no symptoms. That’s why regular checkups are important. As arteriosclerosis progresses, clogged arteries can trigger a heart attack or stroke, with the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain or pressure (angina)
  • Sudden arm or leg weakness or numbness
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Brief loss of vision in one eye
  • Drooping facial muscles
  • Pain when walking
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney failure

If you experience any of these heart attack or stroke symptoms, see your physician right away.


A number of factors can contribute to arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis causes include:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglycerides
  • Insulin resistance or diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking or use of other tobacco products
  • Inflammation from other diseases

Risk Factors

Risk factors that could contribute to arteriosclerosis include:

  • Family history: People with a family history of heart disease or arteriosclerosis are at higher risk for the condition.
  • Age
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • History of smoking


Early diagnosis is critical for managing arteriosclerosis. To diagnose the condition, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. During the physical exam, your physician can use a stethoscope to listen to your arteries for an abnormal whooshing sound called a bruit (broo-E). A bruit may indicate poor blood flow due to plaque buildup.

Diagnosis Procedures

Baptist Health uses advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Common diagnostic procedures for arteriosclerosis include:

Ankle brachial index test: During this test, blood pressure cuffs are placed on the arms and ankles. A handheld ultrasound device or Doppler is used to listen to the blood flow and measure the blood pressure. This helps doctors understand if there is decreased blood flow to the lower legs and feet.

Blood test: Blood tests check the levels of certain fats, cholesterol, sugar and protein in the blood that could indicate heart conditions.

CT scan: X-rays and computers are used to create images of the aorta, heart and blood vessels. This provides a more detailed picture than an ultrasound. 

Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.

Stress testing: This test is conducted during exercise. If a person can't exercise, medicine is given to increase heart rate. Used along with an EKG, the test can show changes to the heart’s rate, rhythm or electrical activity as well as blood pressure. Exercise makes the heart work hard and beat fast while heart tests are administered, which can help determine an arteriosclerosis diagnosis.

Ultrasound: An ultrasound device can measure blood pressure on various points of the arm or leg, which will help the physician determine if you have any blockages and how quickly blood flows through the arteries.


While some causes and risk factors like age and heredity cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help to prevent arteriosclerosis:

  • Practice good heart health: Eat a healthy diet, exercise and avoid smoking.
  • Take your medications as prescribed: If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, be certain to take your prescribed medications as directed.


Treatment for arteriosclerosis includes a healthy diet, exercise and medication to control or possibly reverse your condition. If enlarged blood vessels have been diagnosed, our goal is to develop an individualized treatment plan so blood clots do not form. 


Medications to treat arteriosclerosis are prescribed based on the location of your enlarged blood vessels and other underlying conditions you may have. Arteriosclerosis treatment medications include: 

  • Cholesterol medications can protect your heart arteries. 
  • Aspirin can prevent platelets from forming blood clots. 
  • Beta blocker medications can reduce your blood pressure and heart rate and diminish chest pains, the risk of heart attack and irregular heart rhythm. 
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors can lower blood pressure and lower the possibility of heart attack.
  • Calcium channel blockers and diuretics (water pills) can reduce blood pressure. 
  • A clot-busting drug may dissolve blood clots. Your physician may also prescribe other medications, based on your needs. 

It is imperative that you monitor your blood pressure and take medications daily as prescribed to lower the possibility of complications. 


The arteriosclerosis prognosis is good when the condition is treated early with healthy life-style changes, medicines or medical procedures.


If arteriosclerosis is not diagnosed and treated, it could develop into atherosclerosis and cause serious health problems. Complications of arteriosclerosis include: 

  • Coronary Arteriosclerosis (Coronary artery disease): Narrowed arteries near the heart may lead to chest pain, heart attack or heart failure.
  • Peripheral artery disease: Narrowed arteries in the arms or legs may cause circulation problems that make it difficult to feel heat and cold, and cause gangrene that can lead to limb amputation.
  • Carotid artery disease: Narrowed arteries near the brain may cause transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
  • Aneurysms: A bulge in the wall of an artery, if it bursts, can cause a slow leak or life-threatening internal bleeding.
  • Chronic kidney disease: Narrow arteries near the kidneys can prevent effective kidney function. 

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart disease and the diagnosis, management and treatment of arteriosclerosis. In addition, we are accredited by the American Heart Association as a Mission: Lifeline STEMI Receiving facility, which means we are recognized for providing the highest level of treatment for heart attack patients.

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