Over time, arteries and blood vessels can develop clogs or blockages due to a condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a progressive disease characterized by the buildup of plaque on the inner walls of arteries. Here’s how it occurs:
- Endothelial Damage: The process begins with damage or injury to the inner lining of the arteries, known as the endothelium. This damage can result from factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol levels, or inflammation.
- Plaque Formation: When the endothelium is damaged, it becomes susceptible to the accumulation of various substances, including cholesterol, fats, calcium, cellular waste, and inflammatory cells. These substances start to accumulate in the arterial wall, forming plaque.
- Plaque Growth: Over time, the plaque continues to grow, narrowing the arterial lumen and reducing blood flow. The plaque is composed of a fatty core (containing cholesterol) covered by a fibrous cap.
- Atheroma Development: The plaque can develop a rough, irregular surface, making it more prone to further accumulation of platelets and clotting factors. This can trigger the formation of blood clots or thrombus within the narrowed artery, further obstructing blood flow.
- Constriction and Blockage: As the plaque enlarges and the artery becomes increasingly narrowed, the blood flow through the affected vessel becomes restricted. Eventually, the plaque may rupture, causing the formation of a blood clot that can partially or completely block the artery. This can lead to severe complications, such as heart attacks or strokes.
Various factors contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, including:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet (high in saturated and trans fats, and low in fruits and vegetables)
- Genetics and family history
Preventing or managing atherosclerosis involves adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, avoiding tobacco use, and managing conditions like diabetes. Medications may also be prescribed to control risk factors and reduce the progression of plaque formation. In some cases, medical interventions such as angioplasty or bypass surgery may be necessary to restore blood flow in severely blocked arteries.