Atherosclerosis is a lot easier to describe than it is to pronounce: It's what happens when a person's arteries become clogged with fat and cholesterol, making it more difficult for blood to flow through them.
Considering that the arteries are the vessels that carry blood away from the heart to the rest of the body, it's easy to see why their clogging up would be problematic.
Clogged arteries have long been associated with an elevated heart attack risk, but a new study has even more bad news: Atherosclerosis can do bad things to a person's risk of having a stroke, too.
That's according to researchers writing in the American Heart Association-backed journal Stroke.
Clogged arteries are "an independent predictor of future stroke events in the general population," they wrote. Out of nearly 4,200 study participants, 92 had a stroke over about eight years – and artery blockage was significantly higher in those 92 than it was in the rest of the cohort.
Atherosclerosis is better at predicting stroke in patients younger than 65 and in people who are at low risk for heart disease, added researchers. According to the study's lead author, Dr. Dirk Hermann, the findings demonstrate the "closely related nature of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease."
The blockage that builds up in arteries in atherosclerosis is known as plaque and is often caused by high cholesterol, heavy alcohol use, a lack of exercise and obesity. Diabetes, a family history of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and smoking can also raise a person's risk of developing the condition.
Once someone's developed atherosclerosis, it can't be reversed. The National Library of Medicine has some prevention tips, though:
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid foods high in fat and cholesterol.
- Eat several servings of produce daily, and add fish to your diet.
- Limit alcohol to two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day – longer if you're overweight.
- Have a health provider check your blood pressure every one or two years before age 50 and yearly after that. If you've already had a heart attack, stroke or have heart disease, have it checked more often.
- Keep blood pressure below 140/90.
- Talk to a health provider about taking antiplatelet drugs, which help prevent blood clots from forming in your arteries.
- Consult a health provider about taking medication for high cholesterol.
The outlook in South L.A. can seem pretty bleak, though. Here's a rundown of how common some of the risk factors for clogged arteries are on the southside:
Diabetes: Around 12 percent of adults live with diabetes.
Hypertension (high blood pressure): According to the most recent data, more than one in three South L.A. adults reported being diagnosed with hypertension.
Smoking: Nearly 19 percent of the adults living in L.A. City Council District 9, located in South Los Angeles, smoke cigarettes, giving the area one of the highest smoking rates in the county.
The latest data from the L.A. County Department of Public Health shows that South L.A. has some of the highest premature death rates due to heart disease and stroke in the county: In L.A. City Council District 9, for every 100,000 people, more than 2,400 years of potential life are lost due to those two conditions.
?Photo by Robyn Lee via Flickr Creative Commons.