Atherosclerosis: Risk Factors and Risk Calculation

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 19 May 2022

Table of Contents:

  1. Atherosclerosis
  2. Risk Factors
  3. Atherosclerosis Risk Calculation




Plaque accumulation narrows the arteries, causing atherosclerosis. It is the main reason for heart attacks and strokes, as well as one of the leading causes of death globally.

Since atherosclerosis is a silent disease once it has progressed, calculating the health risk requires some informed guesswork. The warning signs are obvious and can help you determine your risks.

Risk Factors


Consider your medical background to get started. If you've had one of these, you're most likely suffering from atherosclerosis:


  • Angina pectoris (heart-related chest pain)
  • Previous history of a stroke or heart attack
  • Blockages in the carotid arteries  – these are in your neck
  • Peripheral artery disease


People with diabetes are more likely to develop atherosclerosis-related health problems. In reality, treatment recommendations for cholesterol in diabetics assume that atherosclerosis is already present.


Next, make a list of the factors that increase your chances:


  • History of heart attacks in your immediate family
  • High “bad" cholesterol (LDL)
  • Low “good" cholesterol (HDL)
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Be sure to tell your doctor about them.


Atherosclerosis Risk Calculation


Doctors may use a risk calculator to determine the chances of developing atherosclerosis in some cases. A similar tool is available from the American Heart Association.


Some details, such as your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, will be required. Your ASCVD Risk Score tells you how likely you are to have a heart attack or die from heart disease within the next ten years.


You'll fall into one of three categories based on your results:


Low risk: In the next ten years, the chances of developing a heart attack are less than 5%. If you have no signs, you won't need any more tests or treatment. With a balanced diet, exercise, and blood pressure management, you will reduce the risk even further. Also, don't smoke.


Moderate risk: In the next ten years, you have a 5% to 712% risk of suffering a heart attack. Here's where things get vague: In addition to the lifestyle changes mentioned above, you may require additional treatment to reduce your cholesterol. More testing may be needed by your doctor to check for blockages in your heart.

Higher risk: It's past time to start taking atherosclerosis seriously. In the next ten years, you have a 712% risk of having a heart attack. You and your doctor should devise a proactive strategy to reduce your risk.


Referenced on  30/4/2021

  1. Causes of high cholesterol (2017).
  2. High blood cholesterol: What you need to know. (2005).
  3. High cholesterol facts. (2017).
  4. How to get your cholesterol tested. (2017).
  5. LDL and HDL cholesterol: “Bad” and “good” cholesterol. (2017).
  6. Learning about familial hypercholesterolemia. (2013).
  7. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). High cholesterol.
  8. Stone NJ, et al. (2013). 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the treatment of blood cholesterol to reduce atherosclerotic cardiovascular risk in adults. DOI:
  9. Third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III).
  10. Circulation, 2002.
  11. American Heart Association.
  12. Richard Stein, MD, national spokesman, American Heart Association; professor of medicine and director of urban community cardiology program, New York University School of Medicine, New York.

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