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Atherosclerosis: Artery Hardening

Arteries are normally very fluid things, being able to bend and contort as your body does the same, tightening and loosening to let blood flow. But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, arteries can harden, either slowing down, or outright stopping blood flow.

The endothelium must first be damaged before the process of atherosclerosis can begin. This erosion typically begins due to smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. After it's been damaged, bad Cholesterol, or LDL, is able to enter the wall of the artery. Noticing these foreign invaders, macrophages and lymphocytes (white blood cells) stream in, wanting to digest this LDL to get it out of the arterial wall. However, your cells can't eat all of the LDL. Eventually, this LDL builds up as plaque in your arteries, hardening and creating a large bump in your artery. Once it gets big enough, it can block off the passing of blood through the arteries. This creates the risk of plaque attacks. Plaque AttacksThese attacks manifest in a variety of forms. 1. BlockageThe blockage by plaque can create a whole host of problems, from simple pain and numbness in your legs, to Coronary Artery Disease, or the blockage of your heart's arteries. 2. LatencyLatent plaque buildup can be nearly unnoticeable, as it continues to be digested by your cells and absorbed by your cellular wall. 3. RupturesPerhaps the most dangerous form of plaque attack, is when the plaque suddenly gives way. This sudden rush causes the massive amounts of blood now rushing in to clot, which can, in your body, cause a stroke, but if the clotting was in your heart, it can cause a heart attack. Results of AtherosclerosisAtherosclerosis can cause the three major forms of heart disease, mainly because of the plaque buildup and rupture. Most of these diseases stem from the clotting brought about by rupturing of the arterial plaque. 1. Firstly, Coronary Arterial Disease is caused by the blockage of your arteries and veins that supply blood to the heart itself. These stable plaques cause a coronary angina, or immense chest pain. Once these plaques burst, it can cause heart tissue to die in a myocardial infarction, more commonly known as a heart attack. 2. Next, Cerebrovascular diseases are caused by the rupture of plaques in your brain, which can lead to strokes which cause permanent brain damage. Temporary blockage caused by the quick clotting can also cause TIAs, or ministrokes. These "ministrokes" can cause slurred speech or muscle fatigue.3. Peripheral Arterial Disease is the odd one out. Only existing because of the blockage by plaque, these can cause numbness and swelling in your legs. Atherosclerosis affects over 4 million people in the United States, so it's a very prevalent issue. There are ways to fix this dangerous condition, most of which are simple lifestyle changes. A few risk factors are to blame for most of the rupturing of plaque and subsequent heart attacks. Diet changes, changes in exercise, and stopping alcohol and smoking all reduce cholesterol, one of the major causes of atherosclerosis. Aspirins and other high blood pressure medications can help keep atherosclerosis at bay, although you should consult your doctor about whether these medications are right for you.

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