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Vascular Age

Posted Jul 03 2012 11:43am

The concept of vascular age underscores the crucial role blood vessels play in maintaining heart health. A single layer of cells called the endothelium lines the walls of every blood vessel in the body. Along with a layer of elastic tissue, the endothelium comprises what is called the intima.

Bryan Donohue, chief of cardiology at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Shadyside, calls the intima "the governing intelligence" of vascular health. Knowledge it contains and communicates with the blood enables blood to course through the body without clotting, he says. It also helps to keep arteries flexible or compliant. Over time, however, the effects of high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and tobacco smoke provide a toxic milieu that injures the endothelium. That causes an inflammatory response intended to heal the artery wall, but that in the face of continuous injury only makes things worse.

The progressive result is an accumulation of fatty deposits called plaque that can rupture or have their caps shear off, causing clots that lead to heart attacks. In addition, artery walls can stiffen, transforming compliant arteries into conduits like "Styrofoam tubes"...
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