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13.30: Circulatory System Diseases

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Don't smoke, eat healthy, and exercise. Why?

Normally blood needs to flow freely through our arteries. Plaque in an artery can restrict the flow of blood. As you can probably imagine, this is not an ideal situation. And eating right, exercising, and not smoking can help keep your arteries healthy.

Cardiovascular Disease

Diseases of the heart and blood vessels, called cardiovascular diseases (CVD), are very common. The leading cause of CVD is atherosclerosis.


Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque inside arteries (see Figure below). Plaque consists of cell debris, cholesterol, and other substances. Factors that contribute to plaque buildup include a high-fat diet and smoking. As plaque builds up, it narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow. You can watch an animation about atherosclerosis at these links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLonh7ZesKs and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRK7-DCDKEA.

The fatty material inside the artery on the right is plaque. Notice how much narrower the artery has become. Less blood can flow through it than the normal artery.

Coronary Heart Disease

Atherosclerosis of arteries that supply the heart muscle is called coronary heart disease. This disease may or may not have symptoms, such as chest pain. As the disease progresses, there is an increased risk of heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked and cardiac muscle fibers die. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death of adults in the U.S.

Preventing Cardiovascular Disease

Many factors may increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease and other CVDs. The risk of CVDs increases with age and is greater in males than females at most ages. Having a close relative with CVD also increases the risk. These factors cannot be controlled, but other risk factors can, including smoking, lack of exercise, and high-fat diet. By making healthy lifestyle choices, you can reduce your risk of developing CVD.


  • A disease that affects the heart or blood vessels is called a cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • The leading cause of CVD is atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque inside arteries.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of developing CVD.


Use these resources to answer the questions that follow.

  • http://www.hippocampus.org/Biology Biology for AP* Search: The Human Circulatory System
  1. What is plaque?
  2. Distinguish between atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis.
  3. List factors that contribute to plaque formation.
  4. What may be the number one factor that leads to heart disease?
  5. What is a heart attack?
  1. Describe the following heart diseases:
    1. heart failure
    2. high blood pressure
    3. metabolic syndrome
    4. peripheral artery disease


1. List factors that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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atherosclerosis Condition in which plaque builds up inside arteries.
cardiovascular disease (CVD) Any disease that affects the heart or blood vessels.
coronary heart disease Atherosclerosis of arteries that supply the heart muscle.
heart attack Blockage of blood flow to heart muscle tissues; may result in the death of cardiac muscle fibers.
plaque Consists of cell debris, cholesterol, and other substances; accumulates inside arteries in atherosclerosis.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
Date Created:
Feb 24, 2012
Last Modified:
Aug 28, 2016
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