Lots of people worry about atherosclerosis -- or hardening of the arteries
-- as a factor in heart
disease and stroke. But did you know that diabetes, high
cholesterol, high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity are
all major risk factors for atherosclerosis?
Take the case of Barbie Perkins-Cooper, 57, a writer from Mount Pleasant,
S.C. When she discovered that she had type 2
diabetes, she also discovered that she was at risk for atherosclerosis.
What's worse: her high cholesterol...
Heart disease is a result of plaque buildup in your coronary arteries -- a condition called atherosclerosis -- that leads to blockages. The arteries, which start out smooth and elastic, become narrow and stiff. This is the first stage in the development of plaque, causing the arteries to become rigid, restricting blood flow to the heart. The heart potentially beomes starved of oxygen. The most concerning part of coronary artery disease is that the plaque could rupture, leading to a heart attack and potentially sudden cardiac death.
How Does Coronary Artery Disease Develop?
From a young age, cholesterol-laden plaque can start to deposit in the blood vessel walls. As you get older, the plaque burden builds up, inflaming the blood vessel walls and raising the risk of blood clots and heart attack. The plaques release chemicals that promote the process of healing but make the inner walls of the blood vessel sticky. Then, other substances, such as inflammatory cells, lipoproteins, and calcium that travel in your bloodstream and become incorporated into the developing plaque in the inner walls of the blood vessels.
As more and more of these cells are recruited, along with the deposition of cholesterol, these areas grow into bigger and bigger plaque, both pushing the artery walls outward, and growing inward, narrowing the vessel.
Eventually, a narrowed coronary artery may develop new blood vessels that go around the blockage to get blood to the heart. However, during times of increased exertion or stress, the new arteries may not be able to supply enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.
In some cases, when a plaque ruptures, a blood clot may totally block the blood supply to the heart muscle, causing heart attack. If a blood vessel to the brain is blocked, usually from a blood clot, an ischemic stroke can result. If a blood vessel within the brain bursts, most likely as a result of uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure), a hemorrhagic stroke can result.
Studies have found that taking low-dose aspirin on a daily basis may help prevent the development cardiovascular disease in those 50 or older and are at risk of developing heart disease.