Atherosclerosis is caused by plaque. Plaque is created by high levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood. Scar tissue and calcium from vessel injury can also add to the plaque build up.
The process leading to this may begin in childhood. It takes decades before it causes serious health problems.
There are two types of factors that increase your chance of atherosclerosis:
Risk factors you cannot control:
- Father or brother who developed complications of atherosclerosis before age 55 or mother or sister who developed complications of atherosclerosis before age 65
- Age: 45 and older for men; 55 and older for women
- Sex: men have a greater risk of heart attack than women
Risk factors you can control:
- High cholesterol —especially LDL ("bad") cholesterol and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Cigarette smoking
- Diabetes, type 1 and type 2
- Overweight and obesity
- Lack of physical activity
- Metabolic syndrome
—a combination of three out of the following five findings:
- Low HDL-cholesterol—also called good cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Elevated blood sugar
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increased waist circumference (greater than 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women)
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