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Flow No

647

Turn the cylinder upside down and watch the blood cells flow through the vessel. What happens when the vessel narrows?

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Biology

The tube represents an artery in the human body. A build-up of plaque will narrow the arteries and can be caused by high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol. Known as atherosclerosis, this plaque can slow down or completely block blood flow and can lead to serious disease such as strokes and heart attacks.

Many things can lead to the buildup of plaque inside of arteries, this includes diet and level of physical activity. Age is also a factor as these build ups may take some time to form and may not show any symptoms for many years. It is therefore important to try and stay fit and healthy for as much of your life as possible.

What is blood?

Blood is a mixture of chemicals. The parts that give it the red colour are the red blood cells. These tiny cells carry oxygen around the body, keeping us alive. There is also white blood cells which help fight disease, and plasma which is the liquid all the cells sit within.

What am I seeing?

What you are holding represents an artery, the red beads are red blood cells, and these carry oxygen around body. The yellow build up on the side is a buildup of cholesterol. Notice how this build up is reducing the amount of room the red blood cells have to travel, this is called atherosclerosis. A healthy artery would be smooth inside, allowing plenty of room for the blood to travel.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver. Cholesterol is very important to our bodies, it is important for making vitamin D and bile for breaking down fats, it also helps to keep our blood cells elastic. However atherosclerosis occurs when too much cholesterol builds up on the inside of arteries, the blood vessels which carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

How does it build up?

The inside of the arteries is covered in a layer of cells called endothelium, this helps to keep the inside of the vessel smooth so that blood flows more easily. When the cholesterol builds up the body sends white blood cells called macrophage to combat the problem. The name macrophage literally means 'large eaters', they are the body's first line of defense. The used macrophage combine with the cholesterol and harden to form plaque. This layer of plaque reduces blood flow through the artery and a piece of this plaque may break loose from the rest. This loose plaque is called a thrombus, if thrombi block the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain it may cause a stroke or if it blokes a major vessel it may cause a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

What can we do to prevent this?

Many things can lead to the buildup of plaque inside of arteries, this includes diet and level of physical activity. Age is also a factor as these build ups may take some time to form and may not show any symptoms for many years. It is therefore important to try and stay fit and healthy for as much of your life as possible.

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