diagram of blockage in an arteryAtherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries silently and slowly blocks arteries, decreases blood flow and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Knowing what it is and how to prevent it decreases your chances of developing heart disease.

What is Atherosclerosis?

Bad cholesterol and cells form a plaque in the walls of your arteries. Overtime, the plaque damages the artery walls, creating a bump that continues to grow. A big enough bump can block the artery wall and restrict blood flow. You usually don’t feel symptoms until middle or older age. Sometimes you not experience any symptoms. But if plaque suddenly ruptures, blood can clot in the affected artery. In the brain this causes a stroke; in the heart the result is a heart attack.

Can Atherosclerosis be prevented?

There are risk factors that can significantly increase your chance of having a heart attack. They include:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Obesity
  • Excessive daily alcohol intake (more than one drink for women, two drinks for men)
  • Not exercising regularly (30 minutes per day, five times per week)

Plaque that forms in the artery wall is there to stay. But making healthy lifestyle changes can slow or even stop the plaque’s growth. Your doctor may prescribe medication that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, thus reducing your atherosclerosis risk. In cases of people with significant symptoms, surgery may be required to open up clogged arteries.

The best time to reevaluate lifestyle choices is right now. Scheduling a wellness checkup with your physician is a great way to establish your heart health baseline and begin implementing any positive changes.