What Is the Difference Between Atherosclerosis and Arteriosclerosis?

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 11, 2024
4 min read

Arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are sometimes mistaken for the same condition. But atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis with different causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Arteriosclerosis is the general name for a group of conditions that cause arteries to become thick and stiff. Healthy arteries are stretchy and flexible, and they carry oxygen and nutrients via blood to and from your heart and lungs. When they stiffen, blood flow gets interrupted, causing circulation problems. This stiffening is called the hardening of the arteries. 

There are different kinds of arteriosclerosis, including:

  • Nonatheromatous arteriosclerosis. The main arteries harden due to age-related scarring, which is also called fibrosis. It’s called nonatheromatous because it isn’t related to atheroma — or fat build-up. 
  • Mönkeberg’s arteriosclerosis. The artery walls become hard from calcium deposits. This condition is usually related to increasing age, but it doesn’t cause blood clots, artery narrowing, or circulation problems.
  • Hyaline arteriolosclerosis. The condition affects small arteries and arterioles (smaller branches of arteries) in people with diabetes. The artery walls thicken, narrow and weaken, leading to blocked blood flow. 
  • Hyperplastic arteriolosclerosis. The condition can leave protein deposits along your artery wall and cause your arteries to thicken and narrow. People with high blood pressure have a higher chance of getting this condition.
  • Atherosclerosis. Often confused with arteriosclerosis, this condition is caused by a fatty, waxy build-up — called plaque — in your arteries, leading to clogged arteries and reduced blood flow. 

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are factors that increase the chances of getting arteriosclerosis. 

Lots of people don’t know they have arteriosclerosis until they have a heart attack or aneurysm. An aneurysm happens when the artery walls weaken, widen, and bulge. 

Some signs and symptoms of arteriosclerosis might include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Pain in your arm or shoulder
  • Feeling sick
  • Coughing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Severe headaches
  • Trouble speaking
  • Vision problems
  • Leg pain

Depending on the kind and severity of your condition, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as:

They may also recommend medications that include:

Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis. It happens when plaque, cholesterol, and fatty substances build up in your arteries and cause them to narrow. This buildup can lead to an artery blockage that disrupts blood flow. 

Atherosclerosis is a slow and gradual disease, but it can worsen quickly. Risk factors for the condition include:

If atherosclerosis affects the arteries that supply blood to your heart, the condition might lead to coronary artery disease. Here, the plaque in the coronary artery causes your blood to clot. These clots block the blood supply to your heart muscles, leading to weakening of the heart and finally heart failure over time.

Like arteriosclerosis, lots of people may not know they have atherosclerosis until they have a heart attack. You might have some signs like:

  • Angina — or chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Lightheadedness

If you have these symptoms and high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or high amounts of fat in your blood, your doctor might suggest testing to check for atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis treatment includes lifestyle and dietary changes similar to those for arteriosclerosis. Your doctor may prescribe medications as well as some surgical or nonsurgical procedures.

Medications. Depending on your health, your doctor will prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications as well as blood thinners to prevent blood clots and medications to lower your blood pressure. 

Angioplasty. A common atherosclerosis treatment is a coronary angioplasty with or without a stent. In this procedure, your surgeon inserts a catheter with a balloon on the end into your artery to open it up. Sometimes, a metal coil called a stent is placed in your artery to support the arterial walls and help keep them open.

Bypass surgery. If you have severe coronary artery blockages, you might need coronary artery bypass surgery. A piece of artery from your leg will be added to your heart’s arterial network in order to create a new clear and strong artery for the blood to flow through. 

If you’re having chest pains or other symptoms from the list above, talk to your doctor right away.