|Watch this narrated animation to learn about coronary artery disease, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options. © 2011 Boston Scientific Corporation or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Used with permission of Boston Scientific Corporation.
Cardiovascular disease refers to a broad range of diseases that cause narrowing of the blood vessels or weaken the artery walls, resulting in disruptions in efficient blood flow. Included under the broad umbrella of cardiovascular disease are coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease (PAD), renal (kidney) artery disease, heart failure and high blood pressure. While these conditions may affect different parts of the body, they often share the same underlying cause: atherosclerosis (pronounced ath-row-sklee-rosis), or “hardening” of the arteries.
When arteries are healthy, they are strong, flexible, elastic and smooth on the inside. Blood can flow easily through them.
With atherosclerosis, the build-up of fatty deposits, or plaque, inside the arteries’ walls narrows the channel through which blood flows and makes the arteries “stiffer” and less elastic. A narrowed or blocked artery restricts the flow of blood – and deprives tissues and cells of the life-giving oxygen and nutrients it carries.
Narrowed or blocked arteries can lead to pressure, pain, fatigue or even more serious problems. The presence of blockages in the legs or neck indicates an increased chance that you might also have blockages in the arteries to your heart.
- In heart attack, a blockage in the (coronary) arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart muscle prevents blood from reaching the heart.
- In stroke, a narrowed or blocked artery in the neck, called the carotid artery, is unable to deliver blood to the brain.
- In peripheral artery disease, blockages in the arteries supplying blood to the legs can cause pain in the feet and legs – and can lead to the need for amputation if left untreated.
- When blockages occur in the renal arteries or in arteries to the intestines, the kidney’s ability to filter the blood or the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients are disrupted.