Atherosclerosis Risk Factors

Many factors lead to the risk for atherosclerosis. Some risks can be prevented, while others cannot. Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may begin as early as childhood. Although the exact cause is unknown, it may start with damage, injury or hardening of the inner layer of an artery. The common causes for hardening of the arteries are high cholesterol, fat, aging, smoking, high blood pressure etc.

Many factors lead to the risk for atherosclerosis. Some risks can be prevented, while others cannot. Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may begin as early as childhood. Although the exact cause is unknown, it may start with damage, injury or hardening of the inner layer of an artery. The common causes for hardening of the arteries are high cholesterol, fat, aging, smoking, high blood pressure etc.

Cholesterol - According to the low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) receptor hypothesis, development of atherosclerosis is caused by a high concentration of LDL-cholesterol in the blood, and lowering LDL-cholesterol reverses, or at least retards, atherosclerosis, thus preventing cardiovascular disease.

High Blood Pressure - People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop coronary artery disease, because high blood pressure puts added force against the artery walls. Over time, this extra pressure can damage the arteries, making them more vulnerable to the narrowing and plaque build-up associated with atherosclerosis. The narrowed artery limits or blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle, depriving the heart of oxygen. When the process is advanced enough, patients can experience angina, or chest pain, when they exert themselves. The hardened surface of the artery can also encourage the formation of small blood clots, potentially leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Diabetes - Atherosclerosis is the cause of a majority of cardiovascular events, and atherosclerosis is accelerated by diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. Many risk factors are associated with the metabolic syndrome and help explain the increased cardiovascular disease (CVD) in that condition. Because the metabolic syndrome occurs in most people with type 2 diabetes, its presence likely accounts for most of the increased incidence of CVD in type 2 diabetes. However, the presence of diabetes increases the risk of CVD beyond that seen with the metabolic syndrome alone. Moreover, CVD risk is increased in type 1 diabetes, in which the presence of the metabolic syndrome and these other risk factors is less common.

Obesity - Obesity is an independent risk factor for the development of cardiovascular atherosclerosis. An individual with a body mass index (BMI) of greater 30 kg/m2 is four times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than an individual with a BMI of 25 kg/m2or less. Currently, around 20% of the adult population in Europe is obese; as a consequence as the twenty-first century unfolds, obesity will become an increasingly important factor in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular atherosclerosis. A critical early event in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis is endothelial cell dysfunction, a key feature of which is reduced bioavailability of the signalling molecule, nitric oxide (NO). It is now well established that obesity is associated with endothelial dysfunction.

Smoking & other tobacco use - Smoking is a major cause of CVD. Smoking has been responsible for approximately 140,000 premature deaths annually from CVD. More than 1 in 10 deaths worldwide from CVD in 2000 were attributed to smoking. In the United States, smoking accounted for 33 % of all deaths from CVD and 20 % of deaths from ischemic heart disease in persons older than 35 years of age. Smoking also influences other cardiovascular risk factors, such as glucose intolerance and low serum levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Homocysteine - Elevated homocysteine is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and thrombosis. It has also been shown to be associated with micro albuminuria which is a strong indicator of the risk of future cardiovascular disease and renal dysfunction. Homocysteine degrades and inhibits the formation of structural components of arteries - collagen, elastin and proteoglycans. Chronic consumption of alcohol may also result in increased plasma levels of homocysteine. Deficiencies of the vitamins B6, B9 and B12 can lead to high homocysteine levels. 

  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Obesity
  • Smoking & Tobacco Usage
  • Homocysteine

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