Difference Between Atherosclerosis and Arteriosclerosis

Written by Hexahealth Care Team, last updated on 15 December 2023| min read
Difference Between Atherosclerosis and Arteriosclerosis

Quick Summary

Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are both conditions that involve the hardening of the arteries. However, there are some key differences between the two conditions.

  • Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis that is caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
  • Arteriosclerosis can be caused by a variety of factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
  • The symptoms of atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis can be similar, but atherosclerosis is more likely to cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and stroke.
  • The treatment for atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis typically involves lifestyle changes and medication.

When your doctor uses words like “atherosclerosis” and “arteriosclerosis”, it is understandable to get confused. Many people confuse atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis for the same conditions, especially since they sound similar. But there is a major difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. 

Arteriosclerosis is a broader term for a condition characterised by the stiffening or hardening of the arteries. On the other hand, atherosclerosis is a specific kind of arteriosclerosis with different causes, symptoms, and treatments. The following blog compares atherosclerosis vs arteriosclerosis in terms of their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Continue reading to find out.

What is Arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis is a condition that occurs when the artery walls become hard and stiff. Healthy arteries are elastic and flexible. They carry nutrients and oxygen through the blood to and from your lungs and heart. When these arteries stiffen over time, it becomes difficult for blood to flow through, causing circulation problems and increasing pressure. The various types of arteriosclerosis include:

  1. Nonatheromatous arteriosclerosis: Hardening of the aorta due to age-related fibrosis or scarring. It is non-atheromatous because the hardening is not caused by atheroma (fat buildup). 
  2. Hyaline arteriolosclerosis: The small arteries and arterioles thicken, narrow, and weaken in people with diabetes. The weakened artery walls lead to blocked blood flow. 
  3. Mӧnckeberg’s arteriosclerosis: Usually related to increasing age, this condition causes small and medium size arteries to become hard from calcium deposits. However, it does not cause artery narrowing, circulation problems, or blood clots. 
  4. Hyperplastic arteriolosclerosis: The arteries thicken and narrow due to protein deposits along the artery wall. Patients with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of developing this condition. 
  5. Atherosclerosis: Plaque buildup in the arteries, leading to reduced blood flow.
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What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is a specific kind of arteriosclerosis. It is the buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, and other substances) in the artery walls, causing the arteries to narrow. As a result, the flow of oxygenated blood to the vital organs gets blocked. The plaque can also sometimes burst, leading to a blood clot.

Although atherosclerosis is generally considered a heart problem, the condition can affect arteries anywhere in your body. Atherosclerosis occurs slowly and over time. The stages of atherosclerosis include:

  1. Endothelial damage: Atherosclerosis begins with damage to the endothelial cells (covering the inner layer of the artery wall). Factors such as high cholesterol levels and tobacco products can cause endothelial damage. The damage causes white blood cells to reach the injury site. The cells gather, leading to inflammation within the artery. 
  2. Fatty streak formation: This is the first visible sign of atherosclerosis in which a yellow streak is formed at the endothelial damage site. The yellow streak is formed from dead foam cells (white blood cells that consume cholesterol to eliminate them). 
  3. Plaque growth: The dead foam cells build up in the artery, turning the fatty streak into a larger plaque. As the plaque gets bigger, it narrows the artery opening, leaving less room for blood flow. A fibrous cap develops over the plaque, preventing bits of plaque from breaking into the bloodstream.
  4. Plaque rupture or erosion: Plaque rupture occurs when the fibrous cap covering the plaque breaks open. Plaque erosion happens when endothelial cells around the plaque get worn away. Both plaque rupture and erosion can lead to the development of a blood clot in the artery, blocking blood flow and causing a heart attack or stroke.

Difference between Atherosclerosis and Arteriosclerosis

Atherosclerosis vs arteriosclerosis are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. While the diagnosis for both these conditions is more or less similar, the causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment may differ. The following is the difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis in tabular form.

Parameters Atherosclerosis Arteriosclerosis
Meaning The buildup of plaque in artery walls causes the arteries to narrow

The hardening or thickening of artery walls, restricting blood flow to organs and tissues

Scope A type of arteriosclerosis A broader term for a group of conditions
Type of deposits

Fatty deposits

Calcium deposits
Occurrence of symptoms Mild atherosclerosis shows no symptoms. Symptoms are usually experienced in moderate to severe atherosclerosis. It causes no symptoms, especially in the early stages.
Causes Damage to endothelial cells

Damage to elastin fibres

Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors of Atherosclerosis vs Arteriosclerosis

Identifying atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis differences can be difficult since both conditions typically show no symptoms in their early stages. However, the causes of these conditions are pretty straightforward and different. The risk factors of atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are generally different, but some may overlap. The following section will help better understand the difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis based on their symptoms, causes, and risk factors.  


The symptoms of atherosclerosis usually do not show during the early stages. Symptoms are usually experienced when you are physically or emotionally stressed since the body requires more oxygen. When they do occur, symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on the affected arteries. Possible symptoms include:

  1. Chest pain (angina)
  2. Dizziness
  3. Fatigue
  4. Cold sweats
  5. Rapid heart rate
  6. Shortness of breath
  7. Weakness
  8. Nausea
  9. Numbness or weakness in leg muscles (due to lack of circulation)
  10. Difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  11. Confusion
  12. Temporary vision loss in one eye
  13. Drooping muscles in the face
  14. Claudication (pain in legs or arms while walking or using the arm)
  15. Cramping in buttocks while walking

Arteriosclerosis usually causes no symptoms, especially in the early stage. Even when the condition progresses to hypertension (high blood pressure), it shows no symptoms. 


Atherosclerosis is caused by damage to endothelial cells (cells that make the inner lining of an artery). When the endothelial cells are damaged, it leads to inflammation, causing plaque development. 

Arteriosclerosis is caused by oxidative damage to elastin fibres (proteins that make your artery walls flexible and elastic). The damage causes breakage of elastin fibres, lowering their structured arrangement. As a result, the artery walls become stiff and hard, leading to arteriosclerosis.

Risk Factors

The risk of atherosclerosis increases with the following factors:

  1. Ageing
  2. Gender (men are more prone than women)
  3. Family history of atherosclerosis or heart disease
  4. Smoking
  5. Obesity
  6. High intake of saturated fat
  7. High blood pressure
  8. High blood cholesterol
  9. Diabetes

The primary risk factor of arteriosclerosis is age. As you age, the elastin fibres lose elasticity, making the arteries hard and stiff. The stiffness and hardness of arteries increase significantly after age 55.

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Complications of Atherosclerosis vs Arteriosclerosis

Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis share the same foundation of science; therefore, doctors examine both conditions using the same tools. While the treatment for arteriosclerosis usually includes lifestyle changes and medications, treatment for atherosclerosis may also include surgical procedures. If left untreated, atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis can lead to further complications. 


There is no difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis based on their diagnosis. To diagnose atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis, the doctor will physically examine the signs of the disease, such as decreased blood pressure, weak pulse, and hardened arteries. Depending on the results of the physical exam, the doctor will order one or more of the following tests:

  1. Blood tests: Used to check blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as they may increase the risk of atherosclerosis. You may also need a C-reactive protein (CRP) test to check for the protein that causes inflammation of the arteries. 
  2. Electrocardiogram: ECG is a painless test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. The results can help determine reduced blood flow to the heart.   
  3. Stress test: If you usually experience symptoms during exercise, your doctor may recommend a stress test. During the test, your heart will be monitored while riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill. 
  4. Echocardiogram: The test uses sound waves to display blood flow through the heart. 
  5. Doppler ultrasound: The doctor uses a special ultrasound device to measure blood flow at various points in your arms and legs. The results help analyse the speed of blood flow in the arteries. 
  6. Cardiac catheterisation and angiogram: The doctor inserts a long, thin, flexible tube in a blood vessel in the groin or wrist to see if coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. 
  7. Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI): The test compares the blood pressure in the ankle and the arm to check for atherosclerosis in the arteries of the legs and feet.
  8. Heart scan: The test uses CT imaging to create detailed pictures of the heart and show calcium deposits in the artery walls. 
  9. Other imaging tests: Tests such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) are used to detect the narrowing and hardening of large arteries. 


The doctor may prescribe medications or surgical procedures for the treatment of atherosclerosis.  

  1. Medications: Different drugs are available to slow or reverse the effect of atherosclerosis. Depending on your health, the doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs to slow, stop, or reverse the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. The doctor may also prescribe aspirin to prevent blood clots and drugs to lower your blood pressure.   
  2. Angioplasty and stent placement: The surgeon inserts a catheter into an artery with a balloon at the end. The balloon is inflated to open the blocked artery. Sometimes, a stent is placed in the artery to keep the artery open. 
  3. Coronary artery bypass surgery: You may need bypass surgery if you have several narrowed heart arteries. The surgeon will take a healthy blood vessel from another body part and create a new path for the blood to flow through. 
  4. Endarterectomy: The surgery removes plaque from the walls of the narrowed arteries.

Medications for treating arteriosclerosis include:

  1. ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers: to lower blood pressure and heart’s workload
  2. Calcium channel blockers: lowers blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels
  3. Vasodilators: to open or widen blood vessels


If left untreated, atherosclerosis can lead to various complications. The complications of atherosclerosis depend on the arteries that are blocked or narrowed. These complications include:

  1. Coronary artery disease: When arteries close to your heart get narrowed or blocked due to atherosclerosis, you may develop coronary artery disease. It may cause angina (chest pain), heart attack or heart failure. 
  2. Peripheral artery disease: Atherosclerosis that narrows arteries in the arms and legs may cause peripheral artery disease (blood flow problems in the arms and legs). You may experience symptoms such as claudication, changes in skin colour, cool skin on the feet, sores that do not heal, etc. 
  3. Carotid artery disease: When arteries close to your brain narrow, you may develop carotid artery disease. It can cause transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke. 
  4. Renal artery stenosis: Atherosclerosis can cause the narrowing of arteries leading to the kidneys. This can prevent enough oxygen-rich blood from reaching the kidneys, causing symptoms like oedema (swelling), headaches, unexplained weight loss, dry, itchy or numb skin, etc. 
  5. Aneurysms: Atherosclerosis can also lead to aneurysms (an abnormal bulge in the wall of a blood vessel) anywhere in the body. If an aneurysm bursts, it can result in life-threatening bleeding inside the body.

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent and Treat Atherosclerosis vs Arteriosclerosis

Lifestyle changes are an important part of the treatment plan for atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. The same lifestyle changes that treat these conditions can also help prevent them. Lifestyle changes that support the health and function of your arteries include: 

  1. Stay active: Exercise benefits both conditions, improving endothelial function, arterial elasticity, and inflammation. You should exercise for 90 to 150 minutes every week. 
  2. Quit smoking: If you smoke, quitting cigarette smoking will help improve your arteries’ health and function. 
  3. Limit alcohol intake: Limiting alcohol consumption can help treat or prevent atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. The maximum recommendation for alcohol is two and one drink daily for men and women, respectively. 
  4. Eat heart-healthy food: Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, monosaturated fats, and fibres. Furthermore, a heart-healthy diet is low in salt and saturated fat. 
  5. Manage stress: Practice stress management techniques like yoga and meditation to improve blood pressure and heart health. 
  6. Get enough sleep: Sleep is vital for your overall physical health. Seven to nine hours of sleep are recommended every night. 
  7. Take prescription medication: The doctor may prescribe medication if these conditions lead to high blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

When to Consult a Doctor?

Both atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis do not show symptoms until they cause other health problems. Therefore, you should visit your doctor for annual health exams, which will help them determine if you are at risk of developing these conditions. Furthermore, you should visit your doctor if you have not gotten your blood pressure and cholesterol checked in a long time. 

You should also see your provider if you have the following:

  1. A family history of heart disease or atherosclerosis
  2. Chest pain
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Rapid heart rate
  5. Dizziness
  6. Cold sweats
  7. Unexplained fatigue


While both conditions are often confused with each other, there is a difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis occurs when the arteries become stiff due to elastin fibres losing elasticity. Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis that occurs when the arteries narrow due to plaque buildup. Both conditions do not show any symptoms until they develop into serious conditions. Therefore, it is best to prevent them by implementing lifestyle changes and visiting the doctor regularly. 

If you experience the symptoms or have a family history of heart disease, consult the experts at HexaHealth to get an accurate diagnosis of your condition. We will help you manage your condition by suggesting the necessary lifestyle changes and working with you closely every step of the way. Furthermore, we will help you connect with the best doctors and surgeons near you if further treatment is required. To know more about atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis difference, contact a HexaHealth expert TODAY!

Suggested Reads,

Coronary Angioplasty Carotid Endarterectomy
Coronary Artery Disease Myocardial Infarction

Frequently Asked Questions

The primary difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis is that atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis, whereas arteriosclerosis is a general term for a group of conditions.

Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries due to plaque buildup caused by endothelial damage. On the other hand, arteriosclerosis is the stiffening or hardening of arteries due to elastin fibres losing elasticity.

Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis are two conditions affecting the arteries. However, the causes and consequences of atherosclerosis vs arteriosclerosis differ. Arteriosclerosis blocks the walls of the arteries due to elastin fibres losing elasticity from ageing.

On the other hand, atherosclerosis is a medical condition that hardens the arteries and damages the lumen (opening of the artery) due to plaque buildup. It mostly results from the failure of controlled fat and cholesterol levels in your body.

Arteriosclerosis is a broader term for conditions that occur when the artery walls become thick and stiff. Healthy arteries are flexible and elastic due to the presence of elastin fibres. In this condition, the elastin fibres damage with age, causing the artery walls to become stiff. As a result, blood flow becomes difficult, causing circulation problems. 

 There are several types of arteriosclerosis, such as:

  1. Nonatheromatous arteriosclerosis: Main arteries harden due to age-related fibrosis. 
  2. Mӧnckeberg’s arteriosclerosis: Artery walls become hard from calcium deposits.
  3. Hyaline arteriolosclerosis: Affects small arteries in people with diabetes.
  4. Hyperplastic arteriolosclerosis: Arteries thicken and narrow due to protein deposits along the artery wall.
  5. Atherosclerosis: Plaque buildup in the arteries, resulting in decreased blood flow.

The following are the differences between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis in tabular form:

Parameter Atherosclerosis Arteriosclerosis


It is a type of arteriosclerosis in which plaque builds up in the artery wall, causing decreased blood flow.

The condition is characterised by the hardening and thickening of artery walls, leading to restricted blood flow.


Fatty deposits

Calcium deposits

Damage to endothelial cells

Damage to elastin fibres

Both atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis harden and stiffen the blood vessels. The narrowing and hardening of blood vessels decrease blood flow through the artery. While atherosclerosis narrows the blood vessels due to plaque buildup, arteriosclerosis makes them tight due to elastin fibres losing elasticity.

Atherosclerosis is usually more dangerous as it causes narrowing due to plaque buildup. The deposit of fat in the arteries significantly affects blood flow. If left untreated, atherosclerosis can lead to serious complications, like coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease, stroke, transient ischemic attack, chronic kidney disease, aneurysm, or heart attack.

Both atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis do not show symptoms in their early stages. Usually, symptoms are not experienced until these conditions lead to serious problems. When symptoms of atherosclerosis do occur, they depend on the affected arteries.
Possible symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, cold sweats, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, weakness, nausea, numbness or weakness in leg muscles, difficulty speaking, confusion, drooping muscles in the face, pain in the legs or arms, etc. 

Although both conditions are related to narrowing arteries, the causes of atherosclerosis vs arteriosclerosis are different. Atherosclerosis is caused due to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque development is caused by inflammation in the arteries that result from damage to the endothelial cells (cells that make up the inner lining of the artery). On the other hand, arteriosclerosis results from oxidative damage to elastin fibres (proteins that make the artery walls flexible and elastic), making arteries stiff and hard. 

The doctor will perform a physical exam to evaluate the signs and diagnose atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis. According to the physical exam results, the doctor will recommend further tests, such as:

  1. Blood tests: to check blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  2. Electrocardiogram: to check the blood flow to the heart
  3. Stress test: to monitor the heart during exercise
  4. Echocardiogram: uses sound waves to show blood flow through the heart
  5. Doppler ultrasound: to measure blood pressure at various points along your arm or leg
  6. Cardiac catheterisation: to see if coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked
  7. Ankle-brachial index: compares the blood pressure in the ankle and the arms
  8. Heart scan: shows calcium deposits in the artery walls

The primary risk factor for arteriosclerosis is age. Elastin fibres significantly lose elasticity after age 55. The risk factors for developing atherosclerosis include:

  1. Family history of atherosclerosis or heart disease
  2. Ageing
  3. Gender (men are more prone)
  4. Obesity
  5. Smoking
  6. High intake of saturated fat
  7. High blood pressure
  8. High blood cholesterol
  9. Diabetes

Symptoms usually do not occur for both atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. However, when they do, the common symptoms of atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis include:

  1. Angina
  2. Dizziness
  3. Fatigue
  4. Cold sweats
  5. Rapid heart rate
  6. Shortness of breath
  7. Nausea and weakness

Lifestyle changes and medications are the first-line treatment approaches for atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. Medications for arteriosclerosis include ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and vasodilators.

Additional medications for atherosclerosis include cholesterol-lowering drugs, aspirin, and blood pressure medicines. If atherosclerosis is not cured with lifestyle modifications and medicines, the doctor may prescribe surgical procedures, such as angioplasty, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, or endarterectomy.

Obesity, smoking, high saturated fat intake, and high blood sugar and cholesterol levels are the reversible risk factors for atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis. Lifestyle changes can help prevent these risk factors and, as a result, prevent these conditions. These lifestyle changes include:

  1. Staying active
  2. Quitting smoking
  3. Limiting alcohol intake
  4. Eating heart-healthy food
  5. Managing stress
  6. Getting enough sleep
  7. Taking medications

High cholesterol in the blood can lead to plaque (fat, cholesterol, and other substances) buildup in the artery walls. Plaques can cause the arteries to become hard, narrow, or blocked. Therefore, it is important to control cholesterol levels to prevent atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis.


All the articles on HexaHealth are supported by verified medically-recognized sources such as; peer-reviewed academic research papers, research institutions, and medical journals. Our medical reviewers also check references of the articles to prioritize accuracy and relevance. Refer to our detailed editorial policy for more information.

  1. Whitten C. What is the difference between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis? [Internet]. WebMD. 2021. link
  2. Mayo Clinic . Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayoclinic.org. 2022.link
  3. Atherosclerosis Vs. Arteriosclerosis: What’s The Difference? [Internet]. Healthline. 2022.link
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Atherosclerosis: Types, Causes, & Treatments [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. link

Updated on : 15 December 2023

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational and learning purposes only. It doesn't cover every medical condition and might not be relevant to your personal situation. This information isn't medical advice, isn't meant for diagnosing any condition, and shouldn't replace talking to a certified medical or healthcare professional.


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HexaHealth Care Team

HexaHealth Care Team brings you medical content covering many important conditions, procedures falling under different medical specialities. The content published is thoroughly reviewed by our panel of qualified doctors for its accuracy and relevance.

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