Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of heart disease in America. It is the result of atherosclerotic plaques that develop in the arteries that carry blood to the heart as well as other tissues and organs in the body. These plaques are composed of cholesterol, fat and other substances that accumulate in the smooth muscle layers of the artery. What many people do not realize is that the process can take years to cause noticeable harm and by then it may be too late. That is why it is important for young people to understand the importance of eating right and exercising now instead of waiting until damage has already been done.
What is an atherosclerotic plaque? They begin as lipid streaks in the arteries. As time goes on the streaks become atheromas or fatty growths that take over the smooth muscle walls of the arteries. This can lead to the blockage or occlusion of arteries.
Atherosclerosis can lead to numerous health complications, even death. If blood cannot get to your heart, because cholesterol plaques are blocking the arteries, tissue death will ensue followed by a heart attack. In addition, pieces of the cholesterol plaques can break off and travel to other blood vessels blocking them as well. If one of these pieces blocks an artery in the lungs it can cause a pulmonary embolism, also known as the silent killer.
There are several risk factors associated with atherosclerosis. They include:
- Diet- red meat, high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), sugar
- Diabetes mellitus
It is important that people do not wait until something bad happens to change their habits. Diet and lifestyle changes must be made now in order to ensure a healthy future. Just because you may not see the damage does not mean it is not there. Take charge of your health and remember…you are what you eat.
Photo Credit: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, www.demontfortsurgery