What Is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis (ath-er-o-skler-O-sis) is a disease
in which plaque (plak) builds up on the insides of your arteries.
Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other
parts of your body.
Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and
other substances found in the blood. Over time, plaque hardens and
narrows your arteries. The flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and
other parts of your body is reduced. This can lead to serious problems,
stroke, or even death.
Figure A shows a normal artery with
normal blood flow. Figure B shows an artery with plaque buildup.
Atherosclerosis can affect any artery in the body,
including arteries in the heart, brain, arms, legs, and pelvis. As a result,
different diseases may develop based on which arteries are affected.
artery disease (CAD). This is when plaque builds up in the coronary
arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart. When blood
flow to your heart is reduced or blocked, it can lead to chest pain and heart
attack. CAD also is called heart disease, and it's the leading cause of death
in the United States.
- Carotid (ka-ROT-id) artery disease. This happens when plaque
builds up in the carotid arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to
your brain. When blood flow to your brain is reduced or blocked, it can lead to
arterial disease (PAD). This occurs when plaque builds up in the major
arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the legs, arms, and pelvis. When
blood flow to these parts of your body is reduced or blocked, it can lead to
numbness, pain, and sometimes dangerous infections.
Some people with atherosclerosis have no signs or
symptoms. They may not be diagnosed until after a heart attack or stroke.
The main treatment for atherosclerosis is lifestyle
changes. You also may need medicines and medical procedures. These, along with
ongoing medical care, can help you live a healthier life.
The cause of atherosclerosis isnt known.
However, certain conditions may raise your chances of developing it. These
conditions are known as risk factors. You can control some risk factors, such
as lack of physical activity, smoking, and unhealthy eating. Others you
cant control, such as age and family history of heart disease.
Better treatments have reduced the number of deaths
from atherosclerosis-related diseases. These treatments also have improved the
quality of life for people with these diseases. Still, the number of people
diagnosed with atherosclerosis remains high.
You may be able to prevent or delay atherosclerosis
and the diseases it can cause, mainly by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This,
along with ongoing medical care, can help you avoid the problems of
atherosclerosis and live a long, healthy life.