Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

ASVD Underlying Cause

The cause for atherosclerosis is not completely understood. However, the most accepted explanation starts with injury to the inner wall of the artery.

This injury can be caused by:


In response to the injury, inflammation occurs, which causes further damage to the inside wall of the artery. Cholesterol is deposited at the site of the injury and the cholesterol is covered by a layer of scar tissue. The scar tissue is produced by the cells that make up the wall of the artery.

The combination of cholesterol and scar tissue is called a plaque. The plaque may continue to grow on the inside of the vessel, reducing the space for blood to flow through the vessel. The plaque may also break away from the wall of the blood vessel, where it is carried further in the artery by the bloodstream. As the artery becomes smaller and smaller, eventually the plaque becomes stuck in the artery. This completely stops blood from flowing to the tissues supplied by the artery.

Atherosclerosis can cause:

ASVD Homocysteine

The amino acid, homocysteine, plays a role in atherosclerosis.

Homocysteine may cause atherosclerosis by damaging the lining of arteries. High blood levels of homocysteine are related to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

ASVD Inflammation

Inflammation plays a major role in the progression of atherosclerosis. Although cholesterol is a major component of the plaque, inflammation of the damaged artery leads to the formation of the plaque.

Higher blood levels of the chemicals produced by the inflammation are related to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

Continue to ASVD Anatomy

Last Updated: Nov 17, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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