CausesBy Mayo Clinic staff
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|Development of atherosclerosis|
Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may begin as early as childhood. Although the exact cause is unknown, atherosclerosis may start with damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery. The damage may be caused by:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol, often from getting too much cholesterol or saturated fats in your diet
- Smoking and other sources of nicotine
Once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, blood cells and other substances often clump at the injury site and build up in the inner lining of the artery. Over time, fatty deposits (plaques) made of cholesterol and other cellular waste products also build up at the injury site and harden, narrowing your arteries. The organs and tissues connected to the blocked arteries then don't receive enough blood to function properly.
Eventually pieces of the fatty deposits may break off and enter your bloodstream. In addition, the smooth lining of a plaque may rupture, spilling cholesterol and other substances into your bloodstream. This may cause a blood clot to form which can completely block the blood flow to a specific part of your body, such as in a heart attack. A blood clot can also travel to other parts of your body and partially or totally block blood flow to another organ.
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