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In the early stages of atherosclerosis there are no symptoms. But as plaque build-up occurs, it can cause spasms in the blood vessel, or worse, a blood clot. When this happens, blood supply to organs or tissues can be suddenly blocked causing serious problems. In coronary (heart) arteries, a clot can cause angina (chest pain), a heart attack or sudden death. In carotid (neck) arteries, it can cause a stroke. In the brain, a blood clot can contribute to transient ischemic attacks or stroke. In leg or arm vessels, it can cause peripheral arterial disease. In the aorta, a blood clot can cause aneurysms; and in the renal arteries, it can cause kidney damage.

Ultimately, the goal is to detect atherosclerosis early and treat it aggressively to reduce the risk of any of these problems.