“Most cardiovascular events begin with atherosclerosis, a condition in which inflammation and fatty deposits cause arteries to narrow and stiffen. These deposits, or plaques, build up over years. When they dislodge and travel to smaller vessels, they can block blood flow to vital organs, causing heart attacks and strokes.

Although many of the contributing factors for atherosclerosis, including high cholesterol and hypertension, are well understood, addressing them doesn’t eliminate the risk of developing the disease. “Lipid-lowering medications only reduce the cardiovascular-disease risk by about 35%, so there is this huge gap of things we leave untreated,” says Esther Lutgens, who studies vascular immunology at the University of Amsterdam.”

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