Cardiology - Main Campus
111 Colchester Avenue
Main Campus, McClure, Level 1
Burlington, VT 05401-1473
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, occurs when fat (cholesterol), inflammatory cells (white blood cells) and calcium build up in your arteries, which carry blood to and from your heart. This buildup, called plaque, causes your arteries to thicken and narrow over time, and makes it difficult for blood to flow efficiently throughout your body.
At The University of Vermont Health Network, we take a coordinated, team-based approach to diagnosing and treating atherosclerosis. Our network of heart and vascular providers gives you access to advanced specialists, so no matter where you live in Vermont or northern New York, you can get personalized care that helps you live a full, healthy and pain-free life.
- Specialized experts: Atherosclerosis is a complex condition best managed by a team of specialists. Our general cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, vascular surgeons, and stroke specialists collaborate to determine what treatment is right for you and make sure you get the very best care.
- Advanced treatment options: We provide a range of treatment options to help you feel your best. When lifestyle changes and medications alone don’t manage atherosclerosis, you have access to advanced interventional procedures and surgeries, including percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) and coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). Our interventional cardiologists are the only providers in Vermont offering catheter-based treatments as an alternative to open-heart surgery.
- Care grounded in the latest research: When you choose us for atherosclerosis care, you know you’re getting treatments backed by research. Our Network gives you access to excellent clinicians, leading-edge technology and advanced treatments that include promising new therapies through clinical trials when appropriate.
What Causes Atherosclerosis?
There can be many causes of atherosclerosis. Some of the most common risk factors include:
- A diet high in fat
- Not exercising regularly
Types of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis can affect any of the arteries that supply the heart or lead from the heart to the rest of the body. Depending on the arteries affected, different complications can occur. Atherosclerosis most commonly affects the:
- Heart (coronary) arteries
- Leg arteries
- Carotid or cerebral arteries (brain arteries)
Symptoms of Atherosclerosis
Symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on which arteries are affected. They may include:
- Chest pain or pressure (angina)
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness in your arms or legs, slurred speech or drooping muscles in your face
- Leg or arm pain
- High blood pressure
If you develop atherosclerosis, you are at risk for:
- Heart attack
- Claudication (pain in your legs when you walk)
- Chronic kidney disease
Atherosclerosis can be treated more successfully the earlier it is detected. If you experience any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor.
To diagnose atherosclerosis, your cardiologist will conduct a physical exam. From there, they will typically order one or more diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Atherosclerosis diagnosis and testing may include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) to record your heart’s electrical activity and identify any abnormal rhythms and stress to the heart
- Blood tests to detect high levels of cholesterol or blood sugar
- Echocardiogram to create a video image of your heart pumping blood and evaluate your heart’s function and structure
- Stress tests to monitor your heart rhythm, breathing and blood pressure while you exercise. The test identifies blockages in the blood vessels that supply the heart and evaluates your heart rhythm and blood pressure response to exercise.
- Nuclear imaging or an echocardiogram, usually in combination with a stress test, to evaluate the structure and function of your heart after exercise. This is a more sensitive test to find blockages in the blood vessels that supply the heart. For those who can’t exercise, medication can be combined with imaging.
- Cardiac catheterization or angiogram to identify blocked or narrowed arteries using a long, thin tube (catheter), a special dye and imaging tools
- Blood tests to look for chemical markers of heart failure
- Doppler ultrasound to assess blood flow in the vessels to your brain (carotid arteries) and in the vessels to your arm or leg
- Ankle-brachial index to compare the blood pressure in your leg with the blood pressure in your arm, to help detect vascular disease
The goal of atherosclerosis treatment is to slow the progression of the disease and lower your risk for heart attack and stroke. Your cardiologist may take a variety of approaches to treat your condition.
Lifestyle Changes for Atherosclerosis
Your cardiologist will likely recommend lifestyle changes as the first course of treatment, to help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. These may include:
- Following a heart-healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Managing stress
- Quitting smoking
Medication for Atherosclerosis
Your cardiologist may prescribe medicines to help manage your condition. Common medications for atherosclerosis include statin medications, which lower your cholesterol level and decrease your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
Your provider may also recommend other medications to help:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Lower your blood sugar
- Prevent blood clots
- Prevent inflammation
Surgery for Atherosclerosis
If lifestyle changes and medication are not providing relief for your symptoms, your provider may recommend surgery. Our team of experienced cardiac surgeons and interventional cardiologists will help determine which procedure is right for you. Common surgeries for coronary artery disease include:
- Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), or coronary angioplasty, is a procedure that uses a catheter to open a blocked or narrowed artery. Your interventional cardiologist may place a mesh tube (stent) in the artery during surgery to keep it open. This procedure helps blood flow more normally to the heart muscle.
- Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), in which your surgeon will go around, or bypass, the narrowed or blocked portion of an artery using a blood vessel taken from elsewhere in your body (usually the chest or leg). CABG can relieve chest pain and improve blood flow throughout the body.
- Carotid endarterectomy, in which fatty buildup (plaque) is removed from one of the carotid arteries through an incision in the neck.
Patients with atherosclerosis receive coordinated, leading-edge care. We are experts in both surgical and non-surgical approaches to heart attack and stroke prevention.
Please note: Some of the doctors and specialists listed below may not treat this specific condition.