Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood rich in oxygen throughout your body. They go to your brain as well as to the tips of your toes. Healthy arteries have smooth inner walls and blood flows through them easily. Some people, however, develop clogged arteries. Clogged arteries result from a buildup of a substance called plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. Arterial plaque can reduce blood flow or, in some instances, block it altogether.
Clogged arteries greatly increase the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and even death. Because of these dangers, it is important to be aware, no matter how old you are, of the causes of artery plaque and treatment strategies to prevent serious consequences.
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, at no cost to you. Learn more.
Plaque that accumulates on the inner walls of your arteries is made from various substances that circulate in your blood. These include calcium, fat, cholesterol, cellular waste, and fibrin, a material involved in blood clotting. In response to plaque buildup, cells in your artery walls multiply and secrete additional substances that can worsen the state of clogged arteries.
As plaque deposits grow, a condition called atherosclerosis results. This condition causes the arteries to narrow and harden.
Although experts don’t know for sure what starts atherosclerosis, the process seems to stem from damage to the arterial wall. This damage, which enables the deposition of plaque, may result from:
High ''bad'' cholesterol and low ''good'' cholesterol. High levels of ''bad'' cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), are major contributors to arterial plaque formation. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Everyone also has ''good'' cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), circulating in the blood. HDL is believed to remove some of the bad cholesterol from plaque in clogged arteries and transport it back to the liver, where it is eliminated.
Cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke seems to increase the rate of atherosclerosis in the arteries of the heart, legs, and the aorta -- the largest artery in the body.
Diabetes, or elevated circulating blood sugaris also a major culprit. Even people who have elevated sugars not yet at the level of diabetes, such as seen in the metabolic syndrome, also have increased risk of plaque formation.
Plaque often starts to develop during the childhood or teenage years. Then clogged arteries develop in middle age or later.