Virtual Imaging: Early Detection Saves Lives. Imagery of two elderly couples jogging outside and smiling.

What is Atherosclerosis?

When the arteries become narrow due to excessive plaque buildup, a potentially life-threatening condition known as atherosclerosis develops. Plaque is trapped in the arteries when the endothelium, or thin layer of cells that keeps the walls smooth, is damaged and allows the bad cholesterol to perch.

As the plaque continue to build on the arterial walls, blood flow slows, decreasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients through the body. When this occurs, heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular disease risk are greatly increased.

A person may recognize the presence of atherosclerosis during adolescence when white blood cells begin to appear on the artery wall. If the atherosclerosis develops in the carotid arteries, a person may experience:

  • Weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headache
  • Facial numbness
  • Paralysis

If the condition affects another type of artery, these symptoms may occur:

  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss on legs or feet
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Swelling of hands and feet

High blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, air pollution, and high blood sugar are all causes of atherosclerosis. Thankfully, lifestyle changes to maintain a healthy weight can reduce risk of cardiovascular event from atherosclerosis. In more severe cases, doctors may recommend medication or surgery.

Atherosclerosis can be detected by a computed tomography (CT) scan, which uses X-ray images to create detailed pictures of the inside of the body. The noninvasive CT scan can even detect atherosclerosis in asymptomatic individuals.

“It can improve a person’s odds in the cardiac lottery of life before the sudden heart attack or death. It documents the cumulative effect of all coronary risk factors, conventional and those not yet known,” says Dr. Eva Chomka, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center.

If you believe you may be at risk for atherosclerosis, visit us at to learn more about this state-of-the-art technology.