How Arteries get Plaque Build-up and Why It’s Dangerous
As we age, cholesterol, calcium, and other minerals accumulate on the inside lining of our blood vessels and, over time, can clog them. This process is referred to variously as hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis, and arterial plaque buildup (see Figure 1). To ignore this process can be exceedingly dangerous.
Atherosclerosis contributes to and accounts for rampant cardiovascular disease in adults of the United States and other developed countries. Examples of such diseases are high blood pressure, angina (chest pain due to poor blood circulation to the heart), heart attack, peripheral vascular disease (poor circulation to the legs and feet), and stroke. Most of these conditions are physically disabling and depressing to the patients.
When plaque builds up in blood vessels, blood flow (carrying oxygen and nutrients) is restricted. It’s like water flowing through a pipe clogged with mineral deposits: if the deposits are thick enough to create a complete blockage, the water will stop.
It is no different with your blood vessels. If there is excessive plaque buildup and the vessels become partially or completely blocked, not enough blood can reach the body’s tissues, which become starved for the oxygen and nutrients they need. Consequently, they will not function optimally and may even die. An example is peripheral vascular disease in a diabetic, where there is insufficient blood flow to the lower legs or the feet. Depending on the degree of compromise, the patient may experience pain upon walking, even short distances, or cramping in the legs or feet. Left unattended, gangrene of the feet may ensue, followed by amputation (if one seeks conventional treatment).
Another example is coronary (heart) vessels that become so clogged that there is insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle itself (see Figure 2). Symptoms might be a tightness in the chest, chest pain, or discomfort in the jaw or left arm. If the blood supply is restricted for too long, a myocardial infarction, or heart attack, can occur. In this case, actual muscle tissue of the heart dies. If too much of it dies, the heart will no longer be able to pump blood to sustain life, and death will result.