HEART HEALTH

Causes and Symptoms of Artery Plaque

Artery plaque is a sticky substance that builds up inside the arteries. It consists of cholesterol, calcium, and cellular waste. When arteries harden due to this plaque buildup, it is considered atherosclerosis. This is a serious condition that may block blood flow in the arteries, leading to coronary artery disease (CAD) and possible heart attacks.

 

Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that affects medium and large arteries. The location of plaque buildup can vary dramatically from person to person based on age, lifestyle, genetics, and other risk factors. However, the most important treatment for atherosclerosis involves lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of coronary artery disease.

What Causes Different Types of Plaque in Arteries?

 

There are two types of artery plaque: hard and soft (or vulnerable). Hard artery plaque contains higher levels of calcium and forms on the inner arterial walls. Hard plaque narrows the arteries, and over time, may block blood flow altogether. On the other hand, vulnerable plaque is softer, consisting of more fatty lipids and white blood cells. Unlike hard plaque, vulnerable plaque sometimes forms inside the wall of the artery, making it harder to detect. However, both types of plaque make it difficult for blood to circulate.

Men are at greater risk for artery plaque buildup and CAD, and the risk increases with age. Other serious risk factors include obesity, diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, and a sedentary lifestyle. Additionally, diets high in trans fats also contribute to higher levels of artery plaque.

Coronary Artery Disease

 

CAD is the most common form of heart disease, affecting more than 15 million Americans. Complications from coronary artery disease include heart attacks, arrhythmia, and angina pectoris. Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscles and contribute to heart failure.

Coronary artery disease often begins in childhood, but healthy habits like proper nutrition, exercise, and weight management decrease the risk of complications.

Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms

 

During the beginning stages of CAD, you may not notice any symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, your arteries won’t be able to supply enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart, and you may develop obvious symptoms. Chest pain (angina) is the most common symptom of CAD. It is often triggered by physical or emotional stress. Extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness during exercise may occur when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. And, if your arteries become completely blocked, you may even suffer a heart attack.

In conclusion, coronary artery disease is a serious condition resulting from atherosclerosis. Fortunately, you can control many of the risk factors by embracing healthy lifestyle changes to slow plaque buildup and protect your heart. Being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and giving up smoking are the most effective ways to protect yourself from dangerous plaque buildup.