Difference Between Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis

Main Difference – Atherosclerosis vs Thrombosis

Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis are two terms which are often used interchangeably in medicine due to lack of knowledge about their fundamental cauese. The main difference between Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis is that Atherosclerosis is characterized by the deposition of fatty material on the inner walls of their arteries whereas thrombosis is the local coagulation or clotting of the blood in a part of the circulatory system.

This article will discuss,

1. What is Atherosclerosis? – Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis and Management

2. What is Thrombosis? – Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis and Management

3. What is the difference between Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis?

Difference Between Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis - Comparison Summary

What is Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a disease where cholesterol globules get deposited on the blood vessel walls, later becoming calcified and forming plaques which can narrow down the blood vessels and result in obstruction. This can cut down the oxygen-rich blood supply or block perfusion to various important organs like brain, heart, and lungs.

Atherosclerosis, if untreated, can lead to severe complications such as stroke, myocardial infarction, and even death.

There are several types of atherosclerosis depending on the site where the plaques develop. Coronary heart disease is the commonest type which is caused by the obstruction of the coronary arteries supplying blood the heart muscles. This can most probably lead to a myocardial infarction which can be life threatening.

Carotid artery disease refers to the blockage of carotid arteries, which can give rise to complications such as stroke. Peripheral artery disease can occur due to narrowing and thereby result in a reduced perfusion of upper limbs, lower limbs, and pelvis.

Major risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis include smoking, obesity, alcohol, reduced physical activity, family history and an unhealthy diet rich in cholesterol and fat components.

Most patients will not experience any sign or symptom until a major disastrous condition like a stroke or a myocardial infarction takes place.

The diagnosis of atherosclerosis mainly includes the lipid profile which will reveal increased levels of total cholesterol levels, triglycerides, LDL and VLDL along with a reduced HDL level. Moreover, it is important to diagnose other comorbid conditions like hypertension and diabetes mellitus by making regular visits to the clinic.

However, major treatments for atherosclerosis includes lifestyle modifications such as quitting smoking and alcohol, a healthy diet, exercise, reducing weight and avoiding stressful conditions. Some people might need medications such as statins which will help to reduce LDL and VLDL levels.

Difference Between Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis

What is Thrombosis

This is the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel which mainly consists of a platelet plug made out of aggregated platelets and a mesh of cross-linked fibrin proteins.

A thrombus is usually a healthy response to a blood vessel wall injury, but the danger occurs when it tends to get detached from the wall, traveling to distant sites, obstructing the major blood vessels of important organs like lungs, heart, and brain.

The pathogenesis of a thrombus formation can be explained by what is known as a Virchow’s triad which consists of a hypercoagulability state (leukemia), stasis of blood flow (aneurysms) or an injury to the blood vessel wall (trauma, atheroma).

Thrombosis can result in strokes, heart attacks, and pulmonary embolism. These harmful effects can be prevented by early interventions such as medications (e.g.,Streptokinase) and tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

Main Difference - Atherosclerosis vs Thrombosis

Difference Between Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis


Atherosclerosis is defined as a condition where cholesterol plaques are developed on the endothelium of the blood vessels.

Thrombus refers to a blood clot which is attached to the inner walls of the blood vessels without getting calcified like atherosclerotic plaques.


Atherosclerotic plaques can break free and pass into distant locations via blood, thus lodging in the blood vessels supplying the brain (carotid arteries) resulting in aneurysms, which can be life-threatening.

Thrombus can also get detached from the blood vessel wall and pass along to distant sites which is then known as Emboli.


The main reason for atherosclerosis is the elevated levels of cholesterols including LDL and VLDL.

Thrombi mainly occur due to the hypercoagulable status of blood composition, stasis of blood flow or damage to blood vessels endothelium or wall.

Image Courtesy:
“Atherosclerosis diagram” By NHLBI – (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music