Vascular Associates of Northern Virginia

Timely and considerate care of the arterial and venous systems.

What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is simply the hardening and narrowing of arteries, the blood vessels that transfer the blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

The process begins by an injury to the inner smooth layer of the wall of the artery, called the endothelium. The injury is typically caused by factors such as cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking. This injury leads to the disruption of the smoothness of the endothelial layer causing white blood cells and platelets to stick to it. As a result, the bad cholesterol in the blood, know as LDL, passes through the injured endothelial layer into the wall of the artery. Once the LDL is in the wall, more white blood cells start gathering to digest the LDL. Over time, this collection of cholesterol, cells, and other materials from the damage form what is known as plaque. If nothing changes, such as beginning treatment, the process continues and the plaque keeps growing. Consequently, the artery begins to narrow and eventually, if no intervention happens, the artery will become completely blocked. This process is slow and develops over years, therefore symptoms might not appear until in later stages. Sometimes, however, the plaque could suddenly rupture causing the blood to clot in the artery leading to a sudden blockage. This is could be very serious if it happens in the arteries of the heart or the brain. It is important to remember, if atherosclerosis happens in one area it could form in other areas of the body as well.

Risk Factors

Atherosclerosis can happen in anyone.  It starts early and continues for years.  Therefore, it is important to know what factors increase the risk of atherosclerosis in order to avoid them or deal with them.  Some of these risk factors are:

  • High levels of cholesterol, especially LDL
  • High levels of triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Family histroy of atherosclerosis

If you look closely at these risk factors, you will notice that the majority of them can be changed or modified.  This means that atherosclerosis can be prevented or slowed down.


Note: This blog post is intended for information only.  It is not meant to replace a professional medical opinion.  If you are suspecting any medical problems, please seek professional medical attention.  If you are having an emergency, please call 911.

Vascular Associates of Northern Virginia, P.C.
Vascular Laboratory

Our Vascular Surgeons:
Robert S. Podolsky, M.D.
Avisesh Sahgal, M.D.

One comment on “What is Atherosclerosis?

  1. Pingback: Mesenteric Vascular Disease | Vascular Associates of Northern Virginia, P.C.

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