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Atherosclerosis (Arteriosclerosis)

Atherosclerosis — commonly known as hardening of the arteries — is an accumulation of plaque deposits in the lining of the arteries — the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body. It affects nearly 4.6 million Americans.

As a recognized leader in cardiovascular care, the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers innovative treatment techniques for atherosclerosis and other heart and blood vessel conditions.

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To request an appointment, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

What Is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis, also referred to as arteriosclerosis, causes a hardening of the arteries due to plaque build-up.

Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood.

As plaque builds up, it causes the arteries to narrow and harden, slowing — and even stopping — blood flow.

Arteriosclerosis is a serious condition that can lead to:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Death

Atherosclerosis risk factors

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, we can screen people for atherosclerosis risk factors and provide treatments to minimize the risks.

Common risk factors for atherosclerosis include:

  • A family history of cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Why choose the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute for atherosclerosis care?

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers standard and minimally invasive approaches to treat:

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Atherosclerosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Atherosclerosis is a cardiovascular (heart) disease with no visible symptoms, and it often remains undetected until the arteries leading to a vital organ are blocked.

Atherosclerosis symptoms

When a blockage occurs, symptoms vary — depending on the location of affected arteries — and may include:

Diagnosing atherosclerosis

If you have atherosclerosis symptoms, your doctor at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute will ask you questions during your physical exam to help determine what arteries might be affected.

Following your exam, you may need to have additional tests to help confirm a diagnosis of atherosclerosis, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • CT scans
  • An electrocardiogram
  • An echocardiogram
  • Angiography
  • Ultrasound

Testing results

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to expect your test results and will call you when they're available.

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Atherosclerosis Treatment

Medications, lifestyle changes, and surgery may be helpful in treating atherosclerosis.

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's multidisciplinary team of cardiologists, radiologists, surgeons, rehabilitation specialists, physical therapists, and nutritionists provides a full range of advanced atherosclerosis treatments.

Treatments focus on:

  • Reducing strain on the heart
  • Increasing blood flow to affected organs

Atherosclerosis treatment options


  • Prevent blood clots (aspirin or clopidogrel)
  • Control blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Improve blood through narrowed arteries (cliostazol, pentoxifyline)

Lifestyle changes

  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing fat and cholesterol intake
  • Exercise
  • Losing weight
  • Eating a healthy diet

Catheter-based procedures

  • A balloon angioplasty to widen narrowed arteries to increase blood flow
  • Stenting — repair of a damaged artery by inserting a wire mesh tube to keep it open and support the arterial walls
  • Coronary artery bypass graft to create an alternate route for blood 

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Atherosclerosis Educational Materials

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers educational information and videos about atherosclerosis and other heart and vascular diseases and treatments.

Many people find these resources helpful in answering their questions about their condition and preparing them for their procedure or diagnostic test.

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