Arteriosclerosis is the medical term for hardening of the arteries. There are three types, including atherosclerosis (hardening from plaque buildup). You may have no symptoms until the disease leads to issues like heart attack or thrombosis. Medications and lifestyle changes can improve blood flow and lower your risk of complications.


What is arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis means “hardening of the arteries.” It’s a general medical term that refers to your normally flexible artery walls becoming hard or stiff. Your arteries are blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood from your heart to all the organs and tissues in your body. Hardening of your arteries can interfere with blood flow and disrupt the normal workings of your circulatory system.

Arteriosclerosis is a gradual process that occurs over many years. It can be dangerous because it develops silently. You may have no symptoms for a long time until the hardening of your arteries leads to complications. Arteriosclerosis raises your risk for a wide range of cardiovascular diseases (conditions affecting your heart and blood vessels).

People often use “arteriosclerosis” interchangeably with “atherosclerosis.” However, these words have slightly different definitions.

Arteriosclerosis is hardening of the arteries from any cause. Atherosclerosis is hardening that happens due to plaque buildup. It’s one specific type of arteriosclerosis, and probably the one you’ve heard the most about. It’s helpful to learn about the other types of arteriosclerosis, too, and how they can affect your body.

Types of arteriosclerosis

There are three main types of arteriosclerosis:


Atherosclerosis is the gradual buildup of plaque (atheroma) in the walls of your medium and large arteries. A few examples include your:

Plaque builds up in the innermost layer of your artery wall (tunica intima).

This usually causes no problems or symptoms in the early stages. But as the plaque grows, it gradually narrows the opening (lumen) of your artery. This creates less room for blood to flow. Plaque buildup also raises your risk for blood clots, which can form on the plaque and block blood flow entirely. Clots can trigger medical emergencies like a heart attack or stroke.


While atherosclerosis affects medium or large arteries, arteriolosclerosis affects small arteries. These are called your arterioles, and they’re the connectors between your larger arteries and your capillaries. They play an important role in controlling your blood pressure, or how forcefully blood moves through your body.

Arteriolosclerosis is the thickening of the walls of your arterioles. This can affect arterioles throughout your body, including those in your kidneys or brain. When your arterioles’ walls are too thick, they can’t do their job properly. Blood may not be able to reach your organs, leading to complications.

Mönckeberg medial calcific sclerosis

Another name for this condition is medial arterial calcification. It means there’s calcium buildup in the middle layer of your artery wall (tunica media). Calcification of this middle layer causes your artery wall to harden. This often happens in people older than 50, but it may happen sooner if you have certain medical conditions (like chronic kidney disease).

This condition can cause blood flow problems and raise your risk for cardiovascular complications.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms?

Arteriosclerosis usually doesn’t cause symptoms until it leads to complications. Symptoms vary widely depending on the problem and can include:

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have symptoms of:

What causes arteriosclerosis?

Changes to your artery wall cause arteriosclerosis. These changes are microscopic at first and happen at the level of your cells. For example, damage to your artery’s inner lining (endothelium) causes atherosclerosis.

Often, such changes happen as you get older. There’s nothing you can do to prevent age-related risk. That’s why it’s important to learn about other risk factors that you may be able to manage, like lifestyle changes.

Risk factors for arteriosclerosis

Factors that lead to hardening of the arteries include:

Work with a healthcare provider to identify your risk factors. For instance, underlying conditions with lifestyle changes and medications can go a long way toward keeping your arteries healthy.


What is the impact of arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis disrupts normal blood flow through your body. When your arteries are too stiff, it’s harder for oxygen and nutrients to reach your organs and tissues. Therefore, hardening of the arteries can lead to complications, including:

It’s possible to have more than one type of arteriosclerosis, and their combined effects can make problems occur sooner than usual.

For example, some research suggests that medial arterial calcification can speed up the process of arterial narrowing when you have atherosclerosis. This is because your artery wall normally responds to the formation of plaque in its inner wall (intima) by expanding outward. This allows the opening of your artery to still be wide enough for blood flow.

But if the middle layer (media) is stiff, your artery wall isn’t flexible enough to expand outward. As a result, plaque buildup in the intima encroaches on the lumen and causes it to narrow.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is arteriosclerosis diagnosed?

Healthcare providers diagnose this condition by:

  • Performing a physical exam.
  • Asking questions about your biological family history, lifestyle and symptoms.
  • Ordering tests.

Tests to diagnose arteriosclerosis

Your provider may order tests to check the health of your blood vessels, assess blood flow and evaluate your heart function. Possible tests include:


Management and Treatment

What is the treatment for arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis treatment includes:

  • Lifestyle changes (like exercise, healthy eating or quitting tobacco use).
  • Medications.
  • Procedures or surgeries.

Your provider will tailor treatment to your needs. They’ll develop a plan to improve your blood flow, lower your risk of complications and manage your symptoms. Talk to your provider to learn more about what’s best in your individual situation.


Can arteriosclerosis be prevented?

It’s not always possible to prevent hardening of your arteries. But you can lower your risk by:

  • Avoiding all tobacco use, including smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco.
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet.
  • Exercising at least 30 minutes daily, five or more days per week.
  • Keeping a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Managing underlying medical conditions.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis can lead to life-threatening complications. But with early diagnosis and treatment, it’s possible to manage your condition and live a long, healthy life. Talk to your provider to learn more about what you can expect. They know you and your medical history best.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your provider for a yearly physical exam, and be sure to go to all your follow-ups as your provider recommends.

Call your provider any time you:

  • Have new or changing symptoms.
  • Have questions about your treatment plan.
  • Experience side effects from treatment.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

There’s no fountain of youth for your arteries. They age along with the rest of your body. This means your arteries gradually get harder and less flexible, and certain risk factors can speed up that process.

The good news is that healthcare providers can identify what puts you at risk. Ask them about the health of your arteries, any areas of concern and what you can do to prevent complications. They’ll recommend lifestyle changes or medications to keep your arteries as healthy as possible for a long time to come.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/04/2023.

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