Calcification of Arteries: What Is It and How to Treat It?

Artery calcification is present in 90% of men and 67% of women older than 70. The term ‘calcification of arteries’ can sound intimidating. Or maybe you’ve never heard the term before now. To understand more about artery calcification, let’s first review some anatomy and physiology vocabulary. 

Arteries are blood vessels in the body that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart and transport it to the rest of the body. Arteries are part of the vascular system (also known as the circulatory system) and work together with the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems to provide the human body with oxygenated blood. 

The human body requires this oxygenated blood to live. As a person grows older, there are often changes to the blood vessels such as artery calcification. 

Table of Contents

What Does Artery Calcification Mean?

Artery calcification refers to the buildup of calcium in the arteries. While the exact mechanism isn’t fully understood, calcium that travels through the blood can settle and accumulate in the arteries.

Calcium is an important electrolyte that aids in heart function and bone formation. It is thought that blood vessels that are damaged or inflamed are more likely to favor these calcium deposits. 

The calcium deposits start small but grow over time. Along with the calcium build-up, there can also be fat and cholesterol plaques accumulating in the arteries. 

The plaques and calcifications can make the arteries hard and stiff and make it more difficult for blood to travel through the arteries and circulate blood throughout the body. 

When the arteries aren’t working optimally, circulation will be negatively affected which puts a person at a high risk of adverse cardiovascular issues. 

How Serious Is Calcification of the Arteries?

Artery calcification is serious because it can lead to severe other health conditions. The calcification of arteries aids in predicting future adverse cardiovascular events such as angina, arteriosclerosis, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension, heart attack, blood clots, stroke, and more.  

Who Does Coronary Artery Calcification Affect?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, in people over 70 years old, greater than 90% of men and 67% of women have coronary artery calcification. 

It can begin as early as the teen years but the risk of artery calcification increases with age and is more common in men than women. 

Anyone can develop coronary artery calcification but there are some risk factors and conditions that can put a person at greater risk such as:

  • Chronic kidney disease 
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High body mass index (BMI)
  • Family history of coronary artery calcification
  • Hypertension
  • Smoking
  • Parathyroid hormone irregularities
  • High phosphate levels
  • High calcium levels

Diagnosing Coronary Artery Calcification

Coronary artery calcification requires image testing to diagnose. The test is usually called a heart scan, coronary calcium scan, or calcium scoring test. It is a computed tomography scan (CT) that provides a picture of the heart. 

A radiologist then interprets the picture and calculates an Agatston score. This score depicts the severity of artery calcification and the risk of cardiovascular disease. See below for a guideline of the Agastson scores and what cardiovascular risks they indicate. 

  • Score of 0 = no risk
  • Score of 1 to 99 =  mild risk 
  • Score of 100 to 399 = moderate risk
  • Score greater than 400 = severe risk

What Causes Calcification of Arteries?

Arteries become calcified when calcium settles and accumulates on the artery walls but the exact mechanism that causes artery calcification is unknown. There are several theories such as calcium-phosphorus imbalance, apoptotic bodies, induction of bone formation, and vascular smooth muscle cells.

How to Treat Calcification of Arteries?

The treatment for artery calcification will depend on many factors including medical history, comorbidities, and severity. Your healthcare provider will be able to discuss treatment options with you. There are a few treatment options that may be considered including:

  • Continuing to monitor. If the risk is low, continuing to monitor the cardiovascular status at regular intervals may be sufficient.
  • Lifestyle changes and continuing to monitor. 
  • A procedure called intravascular lithotripsy entails using a catheter device that produces pressure waves to break the calcification apart, and then a stent is inserted in the artery. 
  • An atherectomy is a procedure that can be used to cut the calcium and plaque build-up in the artery. 
  • A procedure called angioplasty can be used to push the plaque and calcium up against the walls of the artery to improve blood flow. 

How to Prevent Calcification of Arteries?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle including a good diet, exercise, regular check-ups, and treating any existing health conditions will help prevent artery calcification. Treating and maintaining the conditions that put a person at a greater risk of developing artery calcification discussed earlier is vital to preventing the calcification of arteries. 

When to See a Doctor?

You should see a healthcare provider regularly for check-ups even if you are feeling okay. This is especially true for people who have any medical history or family history of cardiovascular disease or risk factors for cardiovascular disease. 

Many early indicators of cardiovascular diseases are undetectable without testing. Diagnosing and starting treatment for cardiovascular diseases early is vital and could be lifesaving. 

Key Takeaways

Artery calcification is when a build-up of calcium has occurred in the arteries. The arteries become hard and stiff. This can make it more difficult for blood to travel through the arteries and circulate blood throughout the body. 

Artery calcification is serious because it can lead to severe other health conditions and cardiovascular diseases. 

The treatment for artery calcification will depend on many factors including medical history, comorbidities, and severity of the calcification. 

See your healthcare provider regularly for check-ups even if you are feeling fine. Many early indicators of cardiovascular diseases are undetectable without testing. 

Diagnosing and starting treatment for cardiovascular diseases early is vital and could be lifesaving. 

Sources:

Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.

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