Cholesterol buildup in blood vessels has long been known to lead to dangerous clotting and, in some cases, heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to know if and where these buildups of cholesterol are occurring. The amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood can give an indication, but it only gives a partial picture and many with high cholesterol will never develop heart disease. As a result, physicians try to combine cholesterol levels with other numbers, like how active you are or how much you smoke. Unfortunately, even those numbers can’t give a direct picture of what’s actually happening in a person’s blood vessels. This where the PLAC test comes in.
What causes heart attacks and strokes?
Heart disease and certain kinds of strokes occur when a clot blocks blood vessels. That blockage prevents oxygen from getting to tissues like heart muscle or brain cells that desperately need it. Without oxygen, those tissues eventually die and generally can’t be regenerated.
These clots don’t appear out of nowhere. They often happen in blood vessels that have built up cholesterol along their walls. When cholesterol deposits in the walls of a blood vessel, it irritates the surrounding tissues and attracts immune cells. These immune cells start to attack and break down the cholesterol while releasing inflammation signals. They encase the damaging cholesterol and its breakdown products with a tough shell of fibrous tissue to protect the body from what’s inside. This cholesterol capsule is called an atheroma.
Unfortunately, this case can break open, especially when the deposit gets too big. The cholesterol, immune cells and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream and trigger the blood to form a clot that can then block off the entire vessel.