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What Is Atherogenesis?

Eating a balanced diet of protien, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps to avoid atherogenesis.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2014
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Atherogenesis is a process which leads to the formation of plaques made up of fatty materials. These plaques line the arteries, gradually constricting them. In some patients, atherogenesis can lead to health complications as a result of their compromised arteries. These issues can include high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. There are a number of treatment options available for someone who has developed atheromas, the technical term for the fatty plaques created by this process.

The process of atherogenesis starts as early as the teens, with the formation of fatty streaks. Fatty steaks lie under the endothelium which lines the interior of the arteries. Over time, deposits can form over the fatty streaks, gradually causing the artery to narrow. Athersclerosis, in which such deposits are clearly present on the arteries, is sometimes referred to as “clogged arteries,” a rather apt descriptor for what happens over time as atheromas build up.

Over time, the arteries can harden as a result of the damage caused by atheromas. The hardening and scarring narrow the arteries and also put them at risk of rupture and other problems. Patients may be identified as at risk for plaques during routine health screenings in which risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are spotted by a medical professional.

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If a plaque ruptures, it sets off a cascade of clotting in an attempt to repair the rupture to the artery wall. This can lead to a complete block, causing a mydocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack. This may happen several times before the patient realizes what is happening, with the heart problems presenting as chest pain or simply not being identified while damage to the heart and arteries continues. In cases of severe damage, treatment options usually require surgery to cope with the damage.

The exact reason why atheromas form is a bit unclear. Diet does appear to play a role, but eating fatty foods does not necessarily mean that someone will develop plaques. The types of fats consumed also seems to be important; fats which add to bad cholesterol tend to contribute to atherogenesis because the plaques often contain cholesterol, while fats which raise good cholesterol levels may actually have a preventative effect.

The best way to deal with atherogenesis is to avoid it. Eating a balanced diet, monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and exercising all seem to contribute to a reduction in risk. If this condition is identified, patients should talk to their doctors about treatment options; early intervention increases the chance of a positive outcome.

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