Discussion and Results Chapter: Factors That Influence Disease

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Atherosclerosis

Factors that influence disease

Factors that influence disease: Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is often defined as the 'hardening' of the arteries. The 'hardening' occurs as plaque creates a coating on the inside arterial war. "Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows your arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body" ("What is atherosclerosis," 2013, NIH). A number of serious conditions are associated with atherosclerosis, including heart attack and strokes.

The causes of atherosclerosis remain a controversial topic of debate in the medical community, although the consensus is that lifestyle factors such as smoking and diet play a significant role in the development of the condition. Diets high in animal fats and sugars have been identified as contributing to the build-up of plaque. "Because of the damage, over time fats, cholesterol, platelets, cellular debris and calcium are deposited in the artery wall. These substances may stimulate the cells of the artery wall to produce still other substances. This results in more cells accumulating in the innermost layer of the artery wall where the atherosclerotic lesions form. These cells accumulate, and many of them divide. At the same time, fat builds up within and around these cells. They also form connective tissue" (Atherosclerosis, 2012, AHA). This build-up begins after birth and becomes more pronounced with age. This means that atherosclerosis is a progressive disease, as plaque deposits are built up over time.

Because of its asymptomatic nature (until it becomes advanced and causes a stroke or heart attack), exact data on the demographics affected by the condition remain unclear. However, the effects of advanced atherosclerosis are clear: cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Being a smoker, being obese, and advanced age (over 70) all increase one's risk (Atherosclerosis disease, 2012, Ultrasound services). Women are equally vulnerable to heart disease as men, and atherosclerosis is more commonly found in persons of minority status who are less likely to get regular health screening and who are more likely to be obese and inactive. For example, "African-American women are more likely to die from heart disease than women of other races" because they also manifest conditions such as "diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise" and are less likely to get… [END OF PREVIEW]

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