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Heart & Vascular Program

Heart Health

Diseases & Conditions: Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque inside of the arteries. It can affect people at any age, although it doesn't usually pose a threat until people reach their forties or fifties. It is a slow, progressive disease with known risk factors, which means you can prevent future complications.

Arteries carry nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other organs in your body. Healthy arteries have a clear and smooth inside surface, and blood is able to flow easily and quickly. However, the inside of your arteries may become filled with plaque as time passes. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, waste products from cells and clotting material. When plaque buildup occurs, the arteries are narrowed and the flow of blood to your vital organs, including your heart, is diminished.

The type of artery and location of the plaque varies with each person. It can occur in any artery throughout your body. When atherosclerosis develops in the arteries that supply the brain, a stroke may occur. When it occurs in arteries of the legs, neck or other areas, it is known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD) or peripheral vascular disease (PVD). Atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries is known as coronary artery disease (CAD) or coronary heart disease (CHD).