Calcified Plaque vs. Noncalcified Plaque

What's the Difference?

Calcified plaque and noncalcified plaque are both types of atherosclerotic plaques that can develop within the arteries. However, they differ in their composition and characteristics. Calcified plaque is formed when calcium deposits accumulate within the plaque, making it hard and rigid. This type of plaque is often stable and less prone to rupture, but it can cause narrowing of the arteries and restrict blood flow. On the other hand, noncalcified plaque is softer and more vulnerable to rupture. It consists of a mixture of fatty substances, cholesterol, immune cells, and cellular debris. Noncalcified plaque is considered more unstable and can lead to the formation of blood clots, which can cause sudden blockages in the arteries and result in serious cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes.


AttributeCalcified PlaqueNoncalcified Plaque
CompositionCalcium depositsSoft lipid-rich deposits
Appearance on imagingBright white on X-ray or CT scanNot visible on X-ray or CT scan
Risk of ruptureLess likely to ruptureMore likely to rupture
Associated conditionsCoronary artery diseaseAcute coronary syndrome
ProgressionSlow progressionRapid progression

Further Detail


Plaque buildup in the arteries is a common occurrence in individuals with atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by the narrowing and hardening of the arteries. Plaque can be classified into two main types: calcified plaque and noncalcified plaque. While both types contribute to the progression of atherosclerosis, they differ in their composition, characteristics, and potential health implications. In this article, we will explore the attributes of calcified plaque and noncalcified plaque, shedding light on their distinct features and impact on cardiovascular health.

Calcified Plaque

Calcified plaque, also known as calcified atherosclerotic plaque, is a type of plaque that contains deposits of calcium within the arterial walls. This type of plaque is typically formed over a long period of time as a result of chronic inflammation and the accumulation of cholesterol and other fatty substances. As the plaque progresses, calcium is deposited, leading to its calcification.

Calcified plaque is characterized by its hard and rigid structure, making it less prone to rupture compared to noncalcified plaque. The presence of calcium provides stability to the plaque, reducing the risk of sudden blockages or blood clots. However, calcified plaque can still contribute to the narrowing of the arteries, limiting blood flow to vital organs and tissues.

One of the key attributes of calcified plaque is its detectability through imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) scans or coronary artery calcium (CAC) scoring. These imaging methods can quantify the amount of calcified plaque present in the arteries, providing valuable information about an individual's risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or strokes.

Furthermore, calcified plaque is often associated with advanced stages of atherosclerosis and is commonly found in older individuals. It is more prevalent in individuals with long-standing risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and smoking. The presence of calcified plaque may indicate a higher burden of atherosclerosis and an increased risk of cardiovascular complications.

While calcified plaque is generally considered more stable than noncalcified plaque, it can still contribute to the development of complications. For instance, the presence of extensive calcified plaque in the coronary arteries may limit the effectiveness of certain interventions, such as angioplasty or stenting, due to the reduced flexibility of the arterial walls.

Noncalcified Plaque

Noncalcified plaque, also referred to as soft plaque, is a type of plaque that lacks significant calcium deposits. It is primarily composed of cholesterol, fatty substances, inflammatory cells, and cellular debris. Noncalcified plaque is typically considered more vulnerable and unstable compared to calcified plaque.

Unlike calcified plaque, noncalcified plaque has a softer consistency and is more prone to rupture or erosion. When the plaque ruptures, it exposes its contents to the bloodstream, triggering the formation of blood clots. These blood clots can partially or completely block the arteries, leading to severe cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes.

Noncalcified plaque is often associated with active inflammation and is considered an early stage of atherosclerosis. It is more commonly found in younger individuals and those with risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, or a family history of cardiovascular disease. The presence of noncalcified plaque may indicate ongoing disease progression and a higher risk of acute cardiovascular events.

Unlike calcified plaque, noncalcified plaque is challenging to detect using traditional imaging techniques alone. However, advanced imaging modalities such as intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) or optical coherence tomography (OCT) can provide detailed visualization of noncalcified plaque, allowing for a more accurate assessment of its characteristics and potential risks.

Due to its unstable nature, noncalcified plaque is often the target of preventive interventions and treatments. Lifestyle modifications, such as adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and managing risk factors, can help slow down the progression of noncalcified plaque and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.


Calcified plaque and noncalcified plaque are two distinct types of plaque that contribute to the development and progression of atherosclerosis. While calcified plaque is characterized by its stability and detectability through imaging techniques, noncalcified plaque is more vulnerable and associated with active inflammation. Both types of plaque can lead to the narrowing of arteries and increase the risk of cardiovascular events. Understanding the attributes of calcified plaque and noncalcified plaque is crucial for healthcare professionals in assessing an individual's cardiovascular health and determining appropriate preventive measures and treatments.

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