When discussing risk, these terms are often used interchangeably.
When your doctor says words like “arteriosclerosis” and “atherosclerosis,” it’s understandable to respond with a “huh?” — especially when they sound very similar like these. It’s important to always ask your doctor for clarification about something you don’t understand, but since you’re here, we’ll break it down for you.
Arteriosclerosis is a condition that occurs when arteries narrow and harden, which makes them weak. Eventually, they get so weak that they can no longer do their very important job: Circulating blood throughout your body. This narrowing of the arteries can make it hard for your organs to get the blood that they need.
Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances on your blood vessel walls. Atherosclerosis is actually a type of arteriosclerosis — the most common type — so they are often used interchangeably in discussion with your doctor about risk, says Lawrence Phillips, MD, cardiologist at NYU Langone Health.
How Atherosclerosis Affects the Body
Atherosclerosis can affect arteries all over the body. There are different names for atherosclerosis depending on what part of the body if affects, including:
- Carotid artery disease
- Coronary artery disease
- Renal artery stenosis
- Peripheral artery disease
“The location and the organ that's impacted by the atherosclerosis is all related to the blood flow from the heart to that particular organ,” says Dr. Phillips. “So, we can see heart attacks or chest pain when it's the arteries to the heart. We can see neurological symptoms, such as difficulty moving or difficulty speaking when it's the arteries to the brain. Or we can see pain with walking or acute leg pain when it's the arteries that are supplying the blood to the legs.”
Understanding Your Atherosclerosis Risk
Untreated atherosclerosis can lead to serious complications, which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor about your risk and how you can modify it.
“Atherosclerosis is a progressive disease. What it looks like in your 20s is different than what it looks like in the same person in their 50s or 60s,” says Dr Phillips. “That difference can be mitigated by lifestyle changes.”
The main treatment for atherosclerosis is lifestyle changes, but you may also need medicines or medical procedures, depending on your risk. These treatments, along with ongoing medical care, can help you live a healthier life.
“We encourage all of our patients to make changes as soon as possible and to keep them over the long term to decrease their risk,” says Dr. Phillips.
Lawrence Phillips, MD, is a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Phillips is the assistant professor of the Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the assistant clinical director for strategic affairs at Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology, the director of the Nuclear Cardiology Laboratory, the medical director for Outpatient Clinical Cardiology, and the associate director of the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program.
00:00:01.167 --> 00:00:05.532
Arteriosclerosis is a general term for narrowing
00:00:05.533 --> 00:00:07.599
and hardening of blood vessels,
00:00:07.600 --> 00:00:10.599
with atherosclerosis being one of the types.
00:00:10.600 --> 00:00:13.232
However, commonly, they are used interchangeably
00:00:13.233 --> 00:00:15.766
when having discussions about risk.
00:00:15.767 --> 00:00:20.632
00:00:20.633 --> 00:00:24.266
So atherosclerosis is a progression over many years.
00:00:24.267 --> 00:00:25.899
You can have two things happen.
00:00:25.900 --> 00:00:28.332
First, you can have symptoms related to the narrowing
00:00:28.333 --> 00:00:30.599
caused by decreased blood flow
00:00:30.600 --> 00:00:32.432
to the organs in the body.
00:00:32.433 --> 00:00:34.366
And the second thing that can happen
00:00:34.367 --> 00:00:37.132
as atherosclerosis progresses, is you can have
00:00:37.133 --> 00:00:40.199
a rupturing of the plaque in the blood vessel,
00:00:40.200 --> 00:00:42.932
causing blockage of the vessel,
00:00:42.933 --> 00:00:45.332
and sometimes a stroke or a heart attack.
00:00:45.333 --> 00:00:49.732
So atherosclerosis, we think of as a narrowing
of the blood vessels,
00:00:49.733 --> 00:00:51.599
and we have to think about which organs
00:00:51.600 --> 00:00:53.266
those blood vessels are going to.
00:00:53.267 --> 00:00:56.699
So we can see heart attacks or chest pain
00:00:56.700 --> 00:00:58.466
when it's the arteries to the heart.
00:00:58.467 --> 00:01:01.266
We can see neurological symptoms
00:01:01.267 --> 00:01:05.566
such as difficulty moving or difficulty speaking
00:01:05.567 --> 00:01:07.599
when it's the arteries to the brain.
00:01:07.600 --> 00:01:11.466
Or we can see pain with walking or acute leg pain
00:01:11.467 --> 00:01:13.799
when it's the arteries that are supplying the blood
00:01:13.800 --> 00:01:15.066
to the legs.
00:01:15.067 --> 00:01:17.366
The location and the organ that's impacted
00:01:17.367 --> 00:01:20.232
by the atherosclerosis is all related
00:01:20.233 --> 00:01:23.332
to the blood flow from the heart to that particular organ.
00:01:23.333 --> 00:01:26.232
Atherosclerosis can be treated in several ways.
00:01:26.233 --> 00:01:28.632
One way is by modifying the risk,
00:01:28.633 --> 00:01:32.166
so cholesterol medications are very important.
00:01:32.167 --> 00:01:35.599
Blood pressure medications for good control
is very important.
00:01:35.600 --> 00:01:38.166
And other medications, like anti-platelet agents,
00:01:38.167 --> 00:01:40.432
such as aspirin, are commonly used.
00:01:40.433 --> 00:01:44.266
But before we get to medications, it's important
00:01:44.267 --> 00:01:47.399
that patients are looking at lifestyle modification
00:01:47.400 --> 00:01:49.632
to improve their risk.
00:01:49.633 --> 00:01:52.532
Lifestyle modification that helps with atherosclerosis
00:01:52.533 --> 00:01:57.066
includes weight loss, decrease sedentary lifestyle,
00:01:57.067 --> 00:01:59.899
partaking in a structured exercise program.
00:01:59.900 --> 00:02:03.332
Diet is very important when it comes
00:02:03.333 --> 00:02:05.632
because of its impact both on blood pressure
00:02:05.633 --> 00:02:09.632
and cholesterol, so low-fat diets, low-salt diets,
00:02:09.633 --> 00:02:13.499
increasing your vegetable intake, your oils,
00:02:13.500 --> 00:02:16.066
those are important factors in your diet
00:02:16.067 --> 00:02:18.432
that will have a benefit on your long-term risk
00:02:18.433 --> 00:02:20.832
from atherosclerosis, so we encourage all
00:02:20.833 --> 00:02:23.699
of our patients to make sure to make changes
00:02:23.700 --> 00:02:26.232
as soon as possible and to keep them
00:02:26.233 --> 00:02:28.733
over long term to decrease their risk.