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Cardiovascular Disease Explained

November 9, 2009

In a recent post we talked about how your heart works, so this time we’ll look at what can happen to keep it from working to its full capacity. The main culprit is cholesterol plaques, which build up and slowly block blood flow in the arteries.

high cholesterol and smoking causes cardiovascular disease Cholesterol plaques form by a process called atherosclerosis, which basically means a hardening of the arteries. LDL is the "bad cholesterol" that is the raw material of cholesterol plaques. Progressive and painless, atherosclerosis grows cholesterol plaques silently and slowly. The eventual result is blocked arteries, which places blood flow at risk and are the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral arterial disease. These conditions together are called cardiovascular disease --the No. 1 killer in America, causing more than 900,000 deaths each year.

High cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, or diabetes can damage the smooth, delicate lining of blood vessels called endothelium, creating a place for cholesterol to enter the artery's wall and accumulate. Plaque is formed as white blood cells stream in to digest the LDL cholesterol. Over years, the toxic mess of cholesterol and cells becomes a cholesterol plaque in the wall of the artery.

The result of this is:

Coronary artery disease -- cholesterol plaques in the heart's arteries can cause chest pain called angina. Sudden cholesterol plaque rupture and clotting causes blocked arteries. When that happens, heart muscle dies. This is a heart attack, also called myocardial infarction.

Cerebrovascular disease -- Cholesterol plaque ruptures in one of the brain's arteries. This causes a stroke, leading to permanent brain damage. Blockages can also cause transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs. A TIA has symptoms like those of stroke. But they are temporary and there is no brain damage.

Peripheral arterial disease -- Blocked arteries in the legs can cause pain on walking and poor wound healing due to poor circulation. Severe disease may lead to amputations.

But there is hope for heart patients! Numerous studies and population registries have shown a clear cause and effect relationship between cholesterol and cardiovascular problems including heart attack and death. More importantly, however, are the findings of a reduction in heart attack, stroke, and death with life-style changes and treatment of cholesterol with statins. The latest statistics from the American Heart Association (AHA) demonstrate a 34% decline in cardiovascular death over the last decade alone! An aspirin a day plus a statin a day in those individuals at risk can reduce a cardiovascular event by as much as 50%!

Doctor Scott Sheldon NOHCAbout the author:
Dr. Sheldon completed his Fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. He specializes in Interventional Cardiology including Balloon Angioplasty, Laser, Directional Brachy Therapy, Atherectomy, Stent Placement, Rotoblator, Perepheral Intervention, Renal Stenting, Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Stenting and Acute Myocardial Infarction. Dr. Sheldon sees patients in our Elyria and Sandusky offices.

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