Heart disease research doctors and scientists do not know the exact cause or causes of atherosclerosis. Scientists think that the buildup of plaque starts when the lining of the artery is damaged or injured, but they are not sure why and how the artery becomes damaged in the first place.
Scientists are also unsure of when atherosclerosis begins. They do know that it is a slow and complex disease that may start in childhood. They also think that atherosclerosis develops faster as people grow older.
(Click Causes of Atherosclerosis for more information.)
Risk factors are conditions or behaviors that increase your chances of getting a certain disease. For atherosclerosis, the risk factors happen to be the same as those for heart disease.
Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:
- Age (risk increases with age)
- Having close relatives with heart disease at younger ages
- High cholesterol levels, also called hypercholesterolemia
- High blood pressure, also called hypertension
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
- Cigarette smoking.
(Click Atherosclerosis Risk Factors for learn more about what puts you at higher risk for this condition.)
The symptoms of atherosclerosis depend on which part of the body is not receiving enough blood and oxygen due to the narrowed artery or arteries. Atherosclerosis symptoms take some time to develop, as the disease must progress to the point where an artery is severely narrowed or completely blocked.
(Click Atherosclerosis Symptoms for a closer look at symptoms that may develop.)