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Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) (Part 1)

Posted by Eamonn Brady on


Atherosclerosis is the medical term for what most of us refer to as “clogging of the arteries”, usually with fatty substances such as cholesterol. Atherosclerosis occurs when arteries become clogged up by fatty substances called plaques or atheromas. This build up of plaque is the root cause of various cardiovascular diseases such as angina, heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.  About 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease (CVD), including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and other circulatory diseases. CVD is the most common cause of death in Ireland, accounting for 36% of all deaths. The largest number of these deaths relate to coronary heart disease, mainly heart attack, accounting for 5,000 deaths. 22% of premature deaths (under age 65) are from CVD.

Atherosclerosis is the underlying cause for CHD. In atherosclerosis, plaques cause affected arteries to harden and narrow which is potentially dangerous because restricted blood flow can damage organs and stop them functioning properly.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)

Atherosclerosis is a major risk factor for many conditions involving the flow of blood, collectively known as cardiovascular disease (CVD). Examples of CVD include Peripheral Arterial Disease, where the blood supply to the legs is blocked, causing muscle pain and cramps; Coronary heart disease, where main arteries that supply the heart become clogged with plaque (eg. Angina); Stroke, where blood supply to the brain is blocked; Pulmonary embolism, a potentially life threatening clot in a blood vessel in the lungs and Heart Attack, where blood supply to the heart is blocked. In some cases, the plaque can also cause a weakening of the wall of an artery. This can lead to an aneurysm. Aneurysms can rupture and cause bleeding that can be life threatening, for example, in the brain.


Certain factors increase the risk of atherosclerosis. These are mainly lifestyle related and include smoking, a high-fat diet, a lack of exercise, being overweight or obese, having either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, having high blood pressure and having high cholesterol. There is also a genetic influence. Over the course of years and decades, plaque build up narrows the arteries and makes them stiffer. This makes it harder for blood to flow through them. Clots may form in these narrowed arteries and block blood flow.

Who is affected?

Arteries naturally get harder as a person grows older. Therefore, atherosclerosis tends to be more common in people over 40 years of age. Atherosclerosis is more common in men than women, probably because oestrogen provides some protection against the effects of atherosclerosis.

The arteries

The circulation system is made up of arteries and veins. The blood is pumped from the heart and through the aorta (the main artery leading from the heart) before travelling through smaller and smaller arteries that branch off from each other. The blood passes into tiny blood vessels, known as capillaries, where the oxygen in the blood is transferred into the cells of the body's tissues and organs. The blood returns to the heart through the veins. Two particularly important arteries are the coronary arteries which provide blood to the heart and the carotid arteries which supply blood to the brain





Atherosclerosis does not usually produce symptoms until blood circulation becomes restricted or blocked, leading to cardiovascular disease (CVD). The type of CVD and its associated symptoms will depend on where the blockage occurs. Conditions caused by atherosclerosis include erectile dysfunction, varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, peripheral arterial disease, leg ulcers, aneurysm, angina, heart attack and stroke. More detailed information on these medical conditions can be viewed at or ask our staff for more information.

Can L’arginine benefit your heart?

As mentioned last week, L-arginine is best known for its cardiovascular benefits and can relax blood vessels. Research shows it reduces stress on the heart, improves circulation and lowers blood pressure. L’Arginine can increase blood flow without the side effects associated with some prescription vasodilators such as headaches and flushing. Reduced blood pressure may be seen within a few days of commencing L’Arginine. The benefits of l-arginine was part of the research that lead to three American scientists winning the 1998 Nobel Prize for Medicine. However, as of yet, research has not shown that L’arginine supplementation reduces the risk of heart attack. By naturally dilating blood vessels, it can also benefit many of the vascular diseases mentioned above.   


What is our BPro Cardio Screen Service?

Whelehans now has a cardiovascular health check called BPro Cardio Screen. This test measures the stiffness of your arteries to help identify risk of blockages and your risk of cardiovascular disease and circulation problems. BPRo is placed like a watch on your wrist and is completely pain free. A pulse wave reads and calculates a wave signal that indicates the elasticity of large, small, and peripheral artery walls as well as tests for stress, central blood pressure, heart rate, and more. It is now only €35 (was €50); it only takes about 15 minutes to get checked. Our next clinic is Thursday February 25th from 9am to 5pm. Book by calling Whelehans at 04493 34591


To be continued…next week I will discuss causes and treatment atherosclerosis


Arginine or BPro Cardio Screen is not meant as a substitute for proper medical assessment with your doctor and should not replace prescription medication


For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans, log on to or dial 04493 34591.


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