Atherosclerosis is a common condition or disease where plaque builds up inside the arteries, causing them to harden and narrow. This plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. Atherosclerosis often occurs with aging. As you grow older, plaque buildup narrows your arteries and makes them stiffer. This condition can lead to heart attacks, aneurysms, strokes, coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease and chronic kidney disease.
The exact cause of atherosclerosis isn't known. However, certain traits, conditions, or habits may raise your risk for the disease. Experts believe that atherosclerosis may start with damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery. When the inner wall of an artery becomes damaged, blood cells and other substances can congregate at the site of the injury and build up in the inner lining of the artery.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, atherosclerosis usually doesn't cause signs and symptoms until it severely narrows or totally blocks an artery, which can cause pain. Many people don't know they have the disease until they have a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke.
Taking control of your health can go a long ways towards minimizing your risk of developing or worsening atherosclerosis. Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising, are often the most appropriate treatment for atherosclerosis. Sometimes, medication or surgical procedures may be recommended as well. If you think you may be at risk for atherosclerosis, talk to you doctor.