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What Causes Atherosclerosis?

The exact cause of atherosclerosis isn't known. However, studies show that atherosclerosis is a slow, complex disease that may start in childhood. It develops faster as you age.

Atherosclerosis may start when certain factors damage the inner layers of the arteries. These factors include:

Plaque may begin to build up where the arteries are damaged. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows the arteries. Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture (break open).

When this happens, blood cell fragments called platelets (PLATE-lets) stick to the site of the injury. They may clump together to form blood clots. Clots narrow the arteries even more, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your body.

Depending on which arteries are affected, blood clots can worsen angina (chest pain) or cause a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers continue to look for the causes of atherosclerosis. They hope to find answers to questions such as:

  • Why and how do the arteries become damaged?
  • How does plaque develop and change over time?
  • Why does plaque rupture and lead to blood clots?
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What is atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Atherosclerosis, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


Atherosclerosis in the News

November 18, 2013
Renal artery stents lead to similar outcome versus medication-only
A commonly used stenting procedure to treat plaque build-up in the renal artery appears to offer no significant improvement when added to medication-based therapy, according to results from a National Institutes of Health-funded study. The narrowing and hardening of one or both renal arteries, known as renal artery stenosis, occurs in 1 to 5 percent of people who have high blood pressure, or hypertension.

View all Atherosclerosis Press Releases


 
July 01, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.