Plaque Formation


Plaque is a fatty buildup within the wall of an artery and is a result of a disease process called atherosclerosis. A plaque develops within the intima layer of the artery at a location where it has been damaged. During this process, white blood cells enter the artery wall and begin to accumulate fat and cholesterol, creating fatty (foam) cells. Over time, this fatty plaque buildup forms a lump that doctors call an atheroma.  This fatty plaque may grow larger as muscle cells, fibers, calcium, and cell debris are deposited.

An early sign of plaque formation is a thickening of the arterial wall. As plaques continue to grow in size, they begin to bulge into the lumen of the artery and produce no symptoms until they rupture. Plaques are prone to rupture and clotting, which may further limit the blood flow through the lumen or lead to other serious conditions, such as heart attack or stroke. These plaques can remain hidden for many years without causing pain or any symptoms.  Unfortunately, in many people, the first symptom of these "hidden" plaques is a heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac death.

















           Occurs in Multiple Arteries


Atherosclerosis (plaque formation) is a silent process and may occur in large and medium-sized arteries anywhere in the body. Therefore, finding evidence of plaque formation in one location increases the likelihood of having plaque in another location.


Common locations for plaques are:


Carotid Arteries - the carotid arteries bring oxygenated blood to the brain; a clot may occur, break off, and become lodged in a smaller vessel of the brain, or the carotids may become narrowed with plaque, causing a stroke.


Coronary Arteries - the coronary arteries bring oxygenated blood to the heart muscle: coronary plaques can rupture or cause severe narrowing of the artery, resulting in chest pain and a heart attack.


Because atherosclerosis occurs everywhere, developing plaque in any location will place you at higher risk of heart attack, stroke and other clinical consequences of plaque build-up and rupture.










Q:  What causes a heart attack?


A.  A heart attack typically occurs when a plaque within a coronary artery ruptures and clots.

This leads to the sudden interruption of the blood supply to the heart muscle.

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