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Atherosclerosis, Arteriosclerosis and Heart Surgery


Updated June 03, 2014

Anesthetist checking parameters gaz and bloodstream of external heart on monitor during open heart surgery.
Thierry Dosogne/Stone/Getty Images
Question: Atherosclerosis, Arteriosclerosis and Heart Surgery
What is the difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis and why do I need heart surgery for these conditions?

The terms atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are frequently used as though they are the same condition. While both conditions are types of coronary artery disease, and may lead to the need for heart surgery, they are not the same.

Arteriosclerosis is hardening of the arteries. This condition not only thickens the wall of arteries, but also causes stiffness and a loss of elasticity. Over time, the arteries become harder and harder as they are slowly damaged by high blood pressure. Arteriosclerosis may be present in any artery of the body, but the disease is most concerning when it attacks the coronary arteries and threatens to cause a heart attack.

Atherosclerosis is the most common type of arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and caused by plaque building up in the vessel. Over time the plaque causes thickening of the walls of the artery. Stiffness and a loss of elasticity also result.

To clarify, a patient with arteriosclerosis (hardened arteries) may not have atherosclerosis (plaque), but a patient with atherosclerosis does have arteriosclerosis. Patients often have both conditions, which can cause a decrease in the blood flow to the heart muscle.

In severe cases, coronary artery bypass surgery, or CABG surgery, is required to insure adequate blood flow to the heart.

Atherosclerosis is made worse by cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Eliminating or controlling those factors, as well as making dietary changes, can often halt the progression of the disease or even improve the condition.


Atherosclerosis. National Institutes of Health. Accessed March, 2009. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000171.htm

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