Through your lifetime fat and cholesterol mix together with other material and begin to line the walls of your blood vessels. This mixture is called plaque. As time passes, the plaque becomes hard and gets thicker. This causes your blood vessels to become more narrow and can even completely block them if it goes untreated.

As you can imagine, it's difficult for blood to pass through these narrow vessels. As a result, stress is put on the heart. This leads to heart disease and can ever cause a heart attack if there's blockage in the actual coronary blood vessels themselves.

In addition, pieces of the hardened plaque can actually separate from the walls and break away. When this happens the small piece flows through the blood vessels and can actually cause a heart attack or even a stroke.

In addition, blood clots can form around the rogue piece of plaque and block blood flow even further. The clots can also travel to the brain, heart, or lungs. The tragic result of this may be as serious as a stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism.

Unfortunately, there are rarely symptoms of atherosclerosis until you have a serious issue such as chest pain or even a heart attack. Early stages of it can sometimes be heard through a stethoscope, but usually more intensive testing is required to diagnose hardening of the arteries.

The good news is that if you catch it early, there's plenty you can do to keep it from getting worse. Your doctor may prescribe a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet in order to reduce the amount of cholesterol and fat in your blood. You may also need to increase your physical activity and work to lose some weight.

In more serious cases, medication may be required to help lower cholesterol and even thin the blood to prevent clots. Surgical intervention through angioplasty is also a treatment option. A procedure called endarterectomy can be performed to actually remove some of the plaque from the vessel walls, though this is not as common.

In very serious cases of blockage, heart bypass surgery may need to be performed. This creates a bypass around the blockage in the heart and can prevent heart attacks from occurring.

Automatic Defibrillators at Home and at Work

One of the most important advances in emergency response is the development of the automatic defibrillator. This is a device that helps to electronically stimulate the heart to beat if someone is having a heart attack.

In the past, first responders had to rely on CPR to keep the blood pumping through the body until help arrived, but now a trained person can actually begin a procedure to start the heart.

Automatic external defibrillators (AED) are very user friendly. They come with two self-stick pads that are attacked the chest in specific areas. Then you press a button on the machine to begin the process.

The machine analyzes the heartbeat and tells the answer what to do. For example, if there's no shockable heart rhythm, the machine will tell you to continue to administrator CPR.

The machine will also intermittently check the heart rate by telling you to stop CPR and wait. If it finds a shockable rhythm, it will tell you to clear everyone away from the person and press the button to administrator the electricity. It will then measure the heartbeat and give you instructions for what to do next.

Defibrillators can be found in many workplaces and on airplanes. They allow someone to get quick medical treatment while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. AEDs have been shown to increase chances of survival from a heart attack by 50-74%. It's also possible to purchase one for your home, though they cost over a thousand dollars at this time.

One thing that's critical is that you receive the proper training to use the AED. Along with using the AED, you may need to perform CPR. If CPR is performed incorrectly, it can lead to injury.

You can receive training in both AED and CPR at your local American Heart Association or American Red Cross. This training is reliably inexpensive and is lifesaving. You may also want to talk to someone in your workplace about investing in an AED for the office as well as training the entire staff to use it.

Before the AED came into existence, people could only perform CPR. CPR is not designed to restart the heart; it only helps to keep oxygen moving through the tissues of the body until medical help arrives.

The AED allows people to begin the process of trying to restart the heart. This increases not only chances of survival, but it also minimizes the risk of damage to the body from oxygen deprivation.