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Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is the cause of more than half of all mortality in developed countries and the leading cause of death in the United States. When the coronary arteries are involved, it results in coronary artery disease (CAD). The hardening of the arteries is due to the build up of fatty deposits called plaque, and mineral deposits. As a result, the supply of blood to the heart muscle (myocardium) is reduced and can lead to ischema (deficiency of blood) to the heart, causing chest pain or a myocardial infarction (heart attack). The hardening of the arteries causes an increase in resistance to blood flow, and therefore an increase in blood pressure. Any vessel in the body may be affected by atherosclerosis; however, the aorta and the coronary, carotid, and iliac arteries are most frequently affected. The process begins early in life. Therefore, physicians should obtain risk-factor profiles and a family history for children.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) refers to any of the conditions that affect the coronary arteries and reduces blood flow and nutrients to the heart. It is the leading cause of death worldwide for both men and women. Atherosclerosis is the primary cause of CAD. Controlled risk factors associated with CAD include hypertension, cigarette smoking, elevated blood lipids (e.g., cholesterol, triglyceride), a high-fat diet (especially saturated fats and trans-fatty acids), physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, and stress. Lifestyle changes can assist in prevention of CAD. Uncontrolled risk factors include a family history of CAD, gender (higher in males), and increasing age.
Stroke, or a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs when the brain does not receive sufficient oxygen-rich blood through blood vessels or when a blood vessel bursts. A stroke may result from blockage of the blood vessels due to a blood clot (ischemic) or from ruptures of the blood vessels (hemorrhagic bursts). Uncontrolled hypertension is a major risk factor for strokes.
Author Info: Teresa Lyles, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Nutrition and Well-Being A to Z, 2004This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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