WHAT IS ARTERY PLAQUE: Plaque doesn't just grow on your teeth. It can also form inside your arteries -- the blood vessels that carry oxygen and blood to the heart, brain and other parts of the body. Arteries have an inner layer of muscle. When it is damaged, plaque can form, sometimes leading to a bulge in the wall of the artery. The bulges can grow big enough to cause the inner lining to rupture. The body responds by sending clotting fibers to the damaged site. Minerals, especially calcium, can become trapped in the net of fibers, and so can fats like cholesterol. The minerals and fats build up over time, causing the arteries to narrow. Blood can't flow so easily through the restricted arteries. The arteries can also become clogged, stopping blood flow completely.
WHAT CAUSES HEART ATTACKS: Heart attack is the leading cause of death in North and South America and in Europe. It is usually the result of prolonged hardening and narrowing of the arteries that direct blood into the heart. When blood vessels are healthy, oxygen-rich blood flows easily to all the muscles and organs of the body. But if they become clogged by the buildup of fatty deposits on vessel walls, blood can be cut off, killing heart muscle cells. This is called coronary heart disease, and it can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
This report has been produced thanks to a generous grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.