Atheroma is an umbrella term for the buildup of substances in the artery wall or atherosclerotic plaque, which consists of fat, cholesterol, calcium, connective tissue, and inflammatory cells. Atheroma does not happen suddenly; buildup accumulates over time, and atheromas may not appear for months or years. If the buildup accumulates enough, the artery wall will be so narrow it will restrict blood flow and potentially block the artery completely. Blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes may result from atheromas.
While they don't know the exact cause of atheromas, scientists and doctors believe inflammation of the endothelium is at fault. This inflammation is due to a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. The inflammation triggers a particular type of cell that invites fat and cholesterol, ultimately contributing to atheromas. Factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, age, and sex.
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