Atherosclerosis is a disease in which fatty material is deposited on the wall of an artery. Normally, the walls of an artery are smooth, allowing blood to flow unimpeded. However, if damage occurs to its inner lining, fat, cholesterol, platelets, and other substances may accumulate at a damaged section of the arterial wall.
Eventually, the tissue builds up and a plaque is formed, narrowing the lumen of the artery. Where the narrowing is severe, there is a risk that the vessel can become blocked completely if a thrombus forms in the diseased segment.
Review Date 1/27/2020
Updated by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.