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Arterial Disease

Arteries are tough, elastic tubes that carry blood away from the heart.  As the arteries move away from the heart, they divide into smaller vessels.  The largest arteries are about as thick as a thumb.  The smallest arteries are thinner than hair.  These thinner arteries are called arterioles.  Unlike veins, arteries carry oxygen (bright red blood) without the use of valves. The walls of the large arteries have three layers: a tough elastic outer coat, a layer of muscular tissue, and a smooth, thin inner coat. Arterial walls expand and contract with each heartbeat, pumping blood throughout the body. The pulsating movement of blood, or pulse, may be felt where the large arteries lie near the body surface.

Hardening of the arteries (Atherosclerosis) is caused by deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and other substances called plaques.

Plaques can grow large enough to significantly reduce the blood’s flow through an artery. But most of the damage occurs when they become fragile and rupture. Plaques that rupture cause blood clots which can block blood flow or break off and travel to another part of the body. If either happens and blocks a blood vessel that feeds the heart, it may cause a heart attack. If it blocks a blood vessel that feeds the brain, it may cause a stroke. And if blood supply to the arms or legs is reduced, it can cause difficulty walking and eventually may lead to gangrene.