An atheroma (plaque) is a fatty material that builds up inside your arteries. It’s made of cholesterol, proteins and other substances that circulate in your blood. Atheromas grow over time and may lead to coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, heart attack or stroke. Lifestyle changes and medications lower your risk of complications.
An atheroma is a fatty substance that builds up in your arteries over time. An atheroma is more commonly known as atherosclerotic plaque, or simply plaque. Atheromas form along the inside lining of your arteries and interrupt blood flow through your body. Atheromas are dangerous because:
Yes. These two words both refer to the fatty substance that lines your artery walls.
Atheromas are made of many substances that circulate in your blood. These include:
Calcium is a substance that hardens the atheroma. That’s why people with plaque buildup are known to have “hardening of the arteries.”
Aortic atheroma refers to plaque that builds up in your aorta. This condition is called atherosclerosis of the aorta. Your aorta is the largest artery in your body. It extends upward from your heart and then curves downward through your chest and belly. Plaque buildup in your aorta raises your risk of many conditions, including:
No, atheroma isn’t a tumor. It’s a substance that builds up in your arteries.
It can be easy to confuse different medical terms. “Atheroma” looks like the names of some tumors, like carcinoma. But atheroma isn’t related to tumors or cancer. It’s related to your blood vessels and your heart health.
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Atheromas form because your artery’s inner lining (endothelium) becomes damaged. Scientists continue to learn more about what causes endothelial damage. But it’s clear that once your endothelium is damaged, an atheroma begins to form at the site. And it grows over time.
Risk factors for atheroma formation and growth include:
Atheromas can form anywhere in your arteries. But they’re more likely to form near branch points (where one artery extends from another) or bifurcations (where one artery splits into two).
Think of your arteries like a complex network of roads. Usually, traffic builds up at intersections rather than in areas where the road is wide open with no traffic lights. When it comes to your arteries, plaque usually builds up near the spots where arteries intersect. Scientists continue to study exactly why plaque tends to build up near these intersections.
Here’s the short version: Atheroma is a substance, and atherosclerosis is a disease.
Now here’s a bit more detail. Atheroma refers to the fatty material that clogs your arteries. It builds up over time and can lead to complications. Atheroma (plaque) is the defining feature of a disease called atherosclerosis. When you have atherosclerosis, you have plaque buildup in your arteries. The plaque gets bigger slowly and silently over the years.
Plaque buildup can begin when you’re in your teens or 20s, and it continues throughout your life. It’s a result of many factors like diet, lifestyle and genetics. But the process happens more quickly in some people compared with others. And some people face complications earlier in life. This is usually due to risk factors like smoking or a family history of early heart disease.
Atherosclerosis can interfere with blood flow in many different parts of your body. As the atheromas get bigger, they take up more space in your arteries. Over time, this plaque buildup may lead to:
It’s often hard to know if you have plaque buildup since you may not feel any symptoms. In fact, you probably won’t notice symptoms until your arteries are at least 70% clogged. Symptoms depend on which arteries are clogged.
Because atheromas can grow without causing symptoms, it’s important to see your healthcare provider every year. Your provider will talk with you about your risk factors and your family history of heart disease. They may also run tests to check your heart and blood vessels.
Atheromas can’t be reversed once they’ve formed. But there’s a lot you can do to slow down the progression of atherosclerosis. Lifestyle changes and medications play a big role. If you’ve been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, talk with your provider about how to manage your condition.
In general, here are some tips for slowing down atheroma buildup in your arteries:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Whether you call it atheroma or plaque, that fatty substance in your arteries isn’t beneficial to your health. But in the battle against atherosclerosis, you’re not alone. Talk with your healthcare provider about ways to slow the progression of plaque buildup in your arteries. Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and eating healthy foods can help protect your arteries for years to come.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/11/2022.
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