MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: How does atherosclerosis affect a person's blood pressure?

Date: Wed Dec 31 14:06:40 2003
Posted By: Stephen Lattanzi, M.D., Hematology/Oncology, New London Cancer Center
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 1070233458.Me

Dear Patricia,

Atherosclerosis, a patchy nodular thickening of the arterial wall, is a major public health problem in industrialized countries and is responsible for many deaths from coronary artery disease and stroke. It is characterized by deposition of cholesterol plaques in the walls of arteries. As the plaques progress, they grow in size, ulcerate and rupture, leading to damage or occlusion of the artery.

Hypertension, or elevated blood pressure, is also a very common health problem in developed countries. While some causes of hypertension are known, in 90-95% of cases hypertension is idiopathic, meaning of unknown cause. (This term has also been defined as meaning the doctor is an idiot!)

Hypertension is known to cause accelerated atherosclerosis, which is one of the primary reasons for the danger of untreated hypertension. However, I am not aware that the converse is true; i.e., that atherosclerosis itself causes hypertension. I was unable to find any data in the literature to suggest that this occurs.

Thanks for your question!

Stephen C. Lattanzi, M.D.


1. Williams GH. Hypertensive vascular disease. In: Wilson JD. Harrison's principles of internal medicine, ed. 12. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1991. pp. 1001-1015.

2. Bierman EL. Atherosclerosis and other forms of arteriosclerosis. Ibid. pp. 992-1001.

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