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:
- High amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood
- High blood pressure
- High amounts of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance or diabetes
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.
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?
What is atherosclerosis?05/22/2014
Describes how the build-up of plaque over time causes atherosclerosis which can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke, or even death. Shows how in atherosclerosis, plaque builds up inside the arteries which can cause a heart attack. Explains that the main treatment for atherosclerosis is lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and being physically active.