What are the Causes of Atherosclerosis?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2019
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The exact causes of atherosclerosis, a disease that creates plaque build-up in the arteries and can result in a variety of conditions like increased risk for stroke and heart attack, are not always clear and medical experts instead point to risk factors that tend to be correlated with high incidence of development of this condition. Having one or more of these risk factors is associated with higher risk for atherosclerosis, but some people may possess none of these factors and still get it, while others have several of these other “pre-conditions” and don’t develop it. Correlation isn’t necessarily cause, but that’s no reason to ignore the recognized associative causes of atherosclerosis.

One of the highest risk factors or causes of atherosclerosis is smoking. This behavior has been shown to be a significant risk when it comes to plaque build-up in the arteries, and it’s linked to many other diseases of the heart and lungs, which can be extremely serious or fatal. As challenging as it might be to quit smoking, it makes sense to keep trying until success is achieved. There are simply so many health risks arising from the behavior, all of which may be minimized by quitting. Moreover, this is a controllable correlation, whereas other conditions commonly considered causes of atherosclerosis might resist control.


A condition that may or may not be easily controlled and that is commonly considered one of the causes of atherosclerosis is diabetes. Sometimes as diabetes progresses, blood sugar levels get increasingly difficult to normalize, and the excess sugar in the blood is thought to encourage formation of more plaque in the arteries. A number of people can control blood sugar levels with attention to diet and proper medication use, but other people have a more difficult time as the disease continues. Not all people can prevent diabetes through attention to diet and maintenance of a healthy weight, but some people can. Along with behaviors like quitting smoking, it’s valuable to consider diet and exercise as means to prevent conditions like diabetes Type 2.

On the issue of diet, people are encouraged to eat diets that support high levels of healthy cholesterol and that reduce “bad cholesterol” intake to minimal levels. Excess fats and cholesterol in the blood may cause plaque to form and are generally considered another cause of atherosclerosis. To address this, people may take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins in addition to attending to diet and exercise programs. Some people genetically have a higher incidence of high cholesterol, and they should get cholesterol tested more regularly at younger ages to be certain they don’t require medical support.

High blood pressure is another condition linked to atherosclerosis. It may occur before or after narrowing of the arteries has begun. As with high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and smoking, attention to this symptom is important and could be addressed with behavioral change and medication.



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