How long does Atherosclerosis last?

By  , Expert Content
Apr 05, 2012

Atherosclerosis starts gradually in young adults (about age of 20), but it generally does not cause symptoms until middle or old age. The plaque builds up in the arteries over many years. Any artery in the body can be affected. In fact, there is no organ system where atherosclerosis can't reach. Plaques in the artery can behave in different ways.

  • Some plaques may remain small and stay within the artery wall. As they don't interfere with blood flow, they may never cause any symptoms.
  • Many plaque harden slowly and cause narrowing and loss of elasticity of arteries. This leads to reduction in the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body. When the artery is narrowed significantly, it reduces the blood flow and can cause pain. For instance, if the blood flow through coronary artery is reduced, it may cause chest pain (angina).
  • Some plaques may rupture (break open) and lead to formation of blood clot on the surface of the plaque in the artery. If the clot is big, it can completely block blood flow through the artery. For instance, if the blood flow in coronary artery is blocked, it will cause heart attack.

There is no cure for atherosclerosis. If an artery is affected, you cannot completely reverse the process in it. Progress of atherosclerosis and complications due to atherosclerosis such as heart attacks and strokes, weakness or pain in arms or legs, loss of hair in affected areas, ulcers or loss of limb, kidney failure, blindness and impotence can be prevented. Further damage to the artery can be prevented.

Some factors to limit the development and progression of atherosclerosis include:  

  • Being at a healthy weight.
  • Eating healthy.
  • Being physically active.
  • Quitting smoke and limiting alcohol.
  • Regular follow-up with your doctor if you have risk factors for developing atherosclerosis.
  • Taking precautions and medications as recommended.


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