Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis. It is a general term for the hardening and thickening of the arteries. Some hardening occurs normally when people grow older. Plaque may partly or totally block the blood flow through the arteries. There are two things that can happen where plaque is, bleeding into the plaque, and formation of a blood clot on the plaque's surface. If either of these occurs and blocks the entire artery, a heart attack or stroke could occur.
This disease affects large and medium sized arteries alike. The type of artery and where the plaque forms varies from person to person. This is a slow and progressive disease that might start in childhood. In some people, this disease occurs very quickly in their thirties and forties. In others it doesn't become threatening to their health until they reach about fifty or sixty.
Three possible causes of this disease are, elevated levels of cholesterol and triglyceride in the blood, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking.
Cigarette smoke aggravates and speeds up the growth of this disease in the coronary arteries, aorta, and leg arteries. In this disease the innermost layer of the artery becomes thickened by accumulating cells and surrounding material. The diameter of the artery is reduced and less blood will flow. This decreases the oxygen supply.
When the oxygen supply to the heart is reduced, a heart attack can occur. When the oxygen supply to the brain is cut off, a stroke can follow. And if oxygen to the extremities is cut off gangrene can result. Then there is always the possibility of a blood clot forming. This always makes it possible that it may break lose and travel to the heart or the brain and be fatal. This disease can be treated.