Atherosclerosis is a life-threatening disease in which cholesterol, cell waste, calcium and other fatty substances are deposited along the lining of the artery walls in your body. These sticky, yellowish deposits, also called plaque, form over time and interfere with blood flow. If you smoke, there is an increased risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke.
What is atherosclerosis?
Arteriosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries (constipation), often begins early in life and progresses with age. Atherosclerosis typically affects medium and large arteries in the body where plaque can accumulate along the lining of the artery walls. This restricts blood flow and reduces the supply of oxygen to your body.
Effects of atherosclerosis
Plaque can burst and cause blood clots (thrombus). These blood clots can come loose and enter your bloodstream, settle in another part of your body and sometimes completely block blood flow, called embolus. Fatty embolisms that block blood flow to your heart cause a heart attack. If they block blood flow to your brain, they cause a stroke. If the blood flow to your arms and legs is reduced, you may have difficulty walking and numbness in your fingers and toes.
Causes of atherosclerosis
Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood damage the endothelium. Some cholesterol is necessary, and your body usually produces most of what your liver needs. The other source of cholesterol is animal fat, known as LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
While our body needs some LDL cholesterol, too much of it can dangerously increase your cholesterol and make you susceptible to atherosclerosis and/or heart attack. Foods that come from animals contain cholesterol. Foods from plants do not contain cholesterol.
Blood pressure is the result of two forces. One is the pressure your heart creates by pumping blood through your circulatory system. The other is the strength of the resistance of the arteries as your blood flows through them. As your heart pumps, it pushes blood through the larger arteries into the smaller blood vessels called arterioles.
The arterioles can narrow or expand, and if this is the case, the resistance of the blood flow is impaired. The heavier the blood flow, the higher the blood pressure. High blood pressure can result in an enlarged and weakened heart muscle.
It's never too late to quit
If you’re a smoker thinking about quitting, remember, it’s never too late. Regardless of your age or how many years you’ve been smoking, research has shown that within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your body starts the healing process.
Within a year of quitting smoking, the risk of coronary artery disease drops to half that of a smoker. Between five and 15 years after quitting smoking, the risk of heart disease and stroke is reduced to that of non-smokers.
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