Atherosclerosis is when the arteries have hardened due to the formation of plaque. Plaque is made up of things such as fatty substances, cholesterol, waste products from cells, etc. It usually does not affect the smaller arteries. Sometimes this plaque can become so thick that it causes a blockage or a rupture. When it causes a rupture then blood clots can form. When an artery becomes blocked or ruptured, it can cause a heart attack or a stroke, and both are very life threatening conditions.
Research shows the benefits of reducing the controllable risk factors for atherosclerosis:
- High blood cholesterol (especially LDL or "bad" cholesterol over 100 mg/dL)
- Cigarette smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke
- High blood pressure
- Diabetes mellitus
- Physical inactivity
Atherosclerosis may be genetic but most often it is caused by our diets and lifestyle. Deposits of cholesterol and triglycerides (lipids) buildup and adhere to the intimal lining of blood vessels. When this occurs the lumen becomes smaller and a decreased amount of blood is able to pass through the vessels.
Atherosclerosis predisposes you to adverse cardiovascular events like hypertension (high blood pressure), CVA (cerebrovascular accident, stroke), and AMI (acute myocardial infarction, heart attack). Hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis is a major cause of sudden cardiac death. A problem with this disease is that you do not feel sick and therefore do not seek out care. Regular routine checkups are needed to assess your risk factors.
People are urged to get their lipid levels checked on a regular basis, stop or cut back on smoking, exercise regularly, and limit their intake of fats.
Atherosclerosis is also called hardening of the arteries. Typically, the artery walls thicken due to buildup of cholesterol. A buildup occurs in the walls of the arteries known as plaque. It is composed of macrophages(white blood cells) and low density lipoproteins(ldl's) which carry cholesterol and triglycerides help contribute to the buildup. Over time, this condition can lead lead to heart attack or stroke due to the narrowing and sometimes complete closure of the blood vessel. When low density lipoproteins(found in some types of fatty foods) become oxidized by free radicals, and then come in contact with the artery walls, this can cause damage. These ldl molecules transport cholesterol. The body attempts to repair the damage by sending white blood cells called macrophages and t-lymphocytes to the artery. Because the white cells are unable to process the oxidized ldl's properly, they grow and rupture depositing cholesterol in the arterial wall. More white cells come to the area and the cycle continues. The wall of the artery becomes inflamed and the plaque becomes covered by muscle in the artery wall, leading to a narrowing and hardening of the artery. This leads to increased blood pressure(hypertension)and reduced blood flow.
Other factors include; age, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, diets high in bad cholesterol or high ldls, genetic risk, lack of exercise.