Atherosclerosis or the hardening of arteries, is a serious health condition where calcium, cholesterol, cellular waste, and other fatty substances builds up on the lining of the artery walls. Plaque, the sticky, yellowish substance, accumulate over time and obstruct proper blood flow.
This condition begins early and progresses gradually as you age affecting the medium and large arteries. Experts suggest that atherosclerosis starts in the endothelium, the innermost level of your artery. When this layer is damaged, plaque starts to build up blocking normal blood flow resulting to the decreased of oxygen supply in your body.
Plaque can cause the rupture of the arteries or cause blood clots. These clots of bloods at times break away and enters your bloodstream only to be trapped in another parts of your body which can cause complete blockage in some important arteries.
Plaques that block arteries to the heart can cause heart attack. If its arteries to your brain, you experience stroke. If it’s to the arms or your legs, it can lead to difficulty in walking which eventually leads to gangrene.
3 Known Causes of Atherosclerosis
High Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood may cause damage to the endothelium. Not all cholesterol though is bad to your health. Normally, your body produces most of the cholesterol it needs. Other sources of cholesterol is animal fat, which is a “bad” cholesterol.
While your body needs some of these bad cholesterol, but too much of this stuff can raise your cholesterol in dangerous levels and put you at risk of atherosclerosis or even heart attack.
Increased Blood Pressure
When your heart pumps, blood is pushed into the large arteries then into your smaller blood vessels. The arterioles or the small blood vessels, either constrict or expand this create resistance that affects the blood flow. The smaller these blood vessels become the higher the blood pressure is.
If this condition left untreated, over time, the heart will be forced to pump blood harder, the result – enlarged heart muscle. Increased blood pressure damages your arteries and arterioles. This puts you at higher risk of atherosclerosis.
Smoking worsens both risks factors mentioned above for atherosclerosis.
- The chemical compounds in cigarette smoke lower your “good” cholesterol level while raising that of the “bad” cholesterol.
- Carbon monoxide and nicotine in tobacco smoke damage your endothelium, which makes a perfect site for plaque build-up.
- While smoking don’t directly cause high blood pressure, however, if you’re suffering from hypertension, it increases your risk of malignant hypertension.
Smoking does not only increase your risk of atherosclerosis, but as well as heart attack and stroke. If you’re a smoker and planning to quit, the good news is – it’s never too late regardless of your age. The good thing about quitting is that as soon as 10 minutes after your last smoke, your body starts to heal and undo the damages smoking caused to your body. In about a year without cigarettes, your risk of coronary diseases drops to 50%. And 5 to 15 years more, your risks drops to that of a non-smoker.