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Atherosclerosis and Arteriosclerosis - Are the Terms Interchangeable?

written by: Vasanth • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 5/8/2011

Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are medical conditions which hinder the circulatory system. So what is the difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis? Arteriosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis caused by the buildup of plaque.

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    Arteriosclerosis

    Any type of hardening of the arterial walls is called arteriosclerosis.

    In this disease, the arterial walls lose elasticity with age and become stiff. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for this disease, as this places excess pressure on arterial walls as the heart pumps blood through them. Arteriosclerosis can occur in any artery of the body. If it occurs in the legs, a condition called peripheral artery disease develops. If the disease develops in the arteries supplying blood to the heart, a heart attack can occur.

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    Atherosclerosis

    If the cause of arteriosclerosis (hardening of arterial wall) is caused by the buildup of plaque within the arteries, then the condition is called atherosclerosis. Plaque consists of several types of molecules including fat, cholesterol, calcium, fibrin and waste products from cellular processes. As the plaque coats the lining of the artery wall, it begins to thicken the wall. Gradually, the artery narrows and reduces the amount of blood that can flow at any given time. If the plaque continues to build up, blood flow might be cut off completely, and might cause a heart attack or a stroke.

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    So What's the Difference?

    The terms arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are used to describe problems associated with the circulatory system. They are often used interchangeably. So what is the difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis?

    It depends on whether your hardened arteries are caused by the buildup of plaque. If you have atherosclerosis, then you surely have arteriosclerosis. It is common for patients with plaque in the arteries to have thickened arterial walls.

    On the other hand, if you have arteriosclerosis, you may not have atherosclerosis. The hardening of the arteries can be due to high blood pressure and old age, rather than plaque. For this reason, the presence or absence of plaque is one of the main factors which differentiates between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis.

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    Tests to Check for Plaque Buildup

    Plaque buildup narrows the blood vessels, causing abnormal blood pressure readings and unusually sounds that can be detected with a stethoscope. A doppler ultrasound can measure the blood pressure along your arms and legs and find any fluctuation that might indicate a reduced blood flow due to plaque. The ankle-brachial index is a test that measures the blood pressure in the ankle and then compares it with the blood pressure in the arm. It can identify reduced blood flow in the leg. Another test which can determine if there is a blood flow problem is the angiogram. In this test, a radioactive dye is injected into the artery. As the dye circulates throughout the body, an X-Ray is used to image the blood flow. Narrowing of the artery and blockages will show up in the X-Ray.

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    Reference

    1. Heisler, Jennifer. "Atherosclerosis, Arteriosclerosis and Heart Surgery." About.com:Surgery. 24 Nov. 2009. Web. 13 Jun. 2010.

    2. "Atherosclerosis." American Heart Association. 3 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Jun. 2010.

    3. "Arteriosclerosis/antherosclerosis Tests and Diagnosis." Mayo Clinic. 28 Jun. 2008. Web. 13 June. 2010.

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