Arteries are vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to every other part of your body. In the best case. Your arteries stay wide open so blood can flow quickly and freely to where it needs to go.
For many people, this ideal does not last long. Blockages in the arteries of the heart get the most attention as they can cause heart attacks. However, arterial blockages can strike anywhere. Symptoms of blocked arteries depend on where the blockage occurs and which part of the body is affected.
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Symptoms of clogged arteries
Clogged arteries are caused by atherosclerosis, which develops over time as plaques of fats, minerals, cholesterol, and more build up in the walls of your arteries. These buildups cause the inner tunnels, called lumens, of the arteries to become smaller and narrower.
As a result, the heart has to use more pressure to pump blood through smaller vessels. This increases blood pressure and puts a strain on the heart’s pumping capacity.
You may also find that different parts of your body have decreased supplies of oxygenated blood, especially if the artery is completely blocked. Your symptoms will depend on where the blockage is and which part of your body is receiving a decreased blood supply.
Symptoms of blocked or clogged arteries can include:
- shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Lower back pain
- Cold hands or feet
- Pain or numbness in the legs, hands, or feet
- Discoloration of the skin in the affected area
- Hair loss
- Decreased or absent pulse, especially in the feet
- Sores or ulcers that do not heal
Clogged artery warning signs
In some cases, a blocked artery can cause serious symptoms and require emergency care. This is primarily true when the clogged artery is supplying blood to a vital organ such as the brain or heart.
Symptoms that can signal a medical emergency include:
- Chest pain
- Sudden pain in your arm or back
- shortness of breath
- A racing heartbeat
- Asymmetrical features, like a drooping smile
- Sudden confusion or mental changes
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing
- Weakness, especially on one side of the body
- Loss of consciousness
- Vision changes
Call 911 or see an emergency doctor right away if you or someone you are with has any of these symptoms.
What causes clogged arteries?
Clogged arteries are caused by a buildup of plaque in your arteries. Plaque is usually made up of a few substances, including minerals like calcium or fats and cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to this buildup of plaques.
In some cases, high cholesterol is genetic, but most often it is related to diet and lifestyle choices.
Risk factors for clogged arteries
Eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol is just one of the things that can contribute to the formation of plaques and clogged arteries.
Other risk factors for clogged arteries can include:
- to smoke cigarettes
- Heavy consumption of alcohol
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Genetic or family history of high cholesterol
- Chronic infections
Diagnosing arterial problems can begin with your GP, but if a blockage is suspected, you will most likely be referred to a cardiologist or vascular specialist.
Who you see depends a lot on where the blockage is and what problems it is causing. For example, if you have a blockage in an artery that feeds your brain, you may need to see a neurologist as well.
Your diagnosis begins with a physical exam, as well as a review of your personal and family medical history. Additional tests can be done to determine the location and extent of the blockage. Testing can include:
- Cardiac catheterization, in which your doctor inserts a very small, flexible, hollow tube called a catheter into a blood vessel in your groin, arm, or neck and routes it through the blood vessel into your heart
- Nuclear scans like MUGA
- Blood pressure measurements
- Perfusion scans
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Blood tests
These tests can be used to measure the amount of fats and cholesterol in your blood, how much resistance your heart is making pumping blood (blood pressure), how well oxygenated blood is reaching certain parts of the body, and how severe the damage is to areas of the body who have an artery blocked.
Treatment of blocked arteries
Treating clogged arteries should be done with a holistic approach. Your doctor will first address the problems that led to the clogged artery. Lifestyle changes are key and can include:
- Stop smoking
- Diet change
- Regular exercise
- Diabetes management
- Blood pressure management
Medications can be used to help you treat conditions that can cause clogged arteries, including:
- Cholesterol medications such as statins
- Medicines to control blood pressure, such as beta blockers
- Medicines to control diabetes such as insulin
You may also be prescribed medications, such as anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs, to avoid complications from clogged arteries.
If the blockage is more severe, a surgeon may need to help mechanically clean the artery. This can be done in a number of ways, usually using a minimally invasive technique that involves inserting a catheter into the vessel. Some techniques to clear a blocked artery include:
- Balloon angioplasty, which involves inflating a small balloon in the artery to open the blocked area
- Laser angioplasty, which involves removing the blockage with a laser that vaporizes the blockage
- Atherectomy, which involves removing tiny amounts of the blockage to open the vessel
- Stent placement, which uses tiny pieces of mesh coil to open the artery and improve blood flow
In more severe cases, you may need to have bypass surgery, which involves removing a piece of a vessel from a part of the body and transplanting it to replace the damaged or blocked area.
The most worrying complications of clogged arteries are heart attacks and strokes. A heart attack can occur when the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart are blocked. When a blockage affects the brain it is known as ischemic stroke. This type of stroke can be effectively treated with strong blood thinners.
Other complications are ischemia, an inadequate blood supply to an organ or part of the body. It can affect any part of the body. Ischemia occurs when oxygen is cut from an area of the body and tissue without oxygen is quickly damaged.
Arterial blockages can also lead to blood clots, caused by platelets and other blood cells that collect around the blocked, narrowed area. Because clots and ischemia affect different areas of the body, they can cause other problems such as kidney and liver problems, poor wound healing, and even digestive problems.
Prevention and management
The keys to keeping your arteries free from clogging is a low-fat diet and regular exercise. A plant-based diet has even been shown to help reverse coronary artery disease in some people.
You also need to make sure that you are treating other chronic conditions that may increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis, such as: B. Hypertension and Diabetes.
frequently asked Questions
What if you have a blocked artery?
When you have a blocked artery, blood and the oxygen in it cannot get to your body’s organs and tissues. It can affect any part of your body.
What foods cause clogged arteries?
Foods high in fat and high in cholesterol, such as fried foods and fast foods, can contribute to the buildup of plaques and clogged arteries.
What are the warning signs of clogged arteries?
There are many symptoms of clogged arteries, including numbness and tingling, high blood pressure, cold limbs, and skin discoloration.
How do they test for clogged arteries?
There are a number of tests available to measure how well blood is moving through your arteries. Blood pressure measurements are the least invasive, but ultrasound, imaging, and cardiac catheterization can provide more accurate information to your health team.
Can You Clear Your Arteries Naturally?
A clogged artery is difficult to clear naturally, but you can help slow and potentially reverse plaque build-up by following a healthy lifestyle and a low-fat, plant-based diet.
Clogged arteries occur when plaques made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in your artery walls and narrow your arteries. This blockage reduces the flow of blood to your organs and tissues. In general, clogged arteries can lead to different health problems depending on where they occur. Prevention through a healthy lifestyle is usually the best defense against clogged arteries.
A word from Verywell
Arteries are vessels in the body that carry blood and nutrients to and from every organ and tissue in your body. This complex system works well, but certain conditions and lifestyle choices can cause fat and cholesterol to build up in these vessels and eventually clog them. When blood can’t get through your artery, it can’t deliver essential oxygen or nutrients to your organs and parts of the body.
Discuss your general health, history, and any concerns about clogged arteries with your doctor regularly. Early detection and prevention are key to avoiding complications from clogged arteries.