Arteries are the blood vessels in your body that transport blood that is enriched with oxygen throughout the body. Arteries travel everywhere in the body, from your brain to the tips of your toes. Healthy arteries are known to have a smooth inner wall, which allows the blood to flow through them easily. In some cases, though, people develop clogged arteries. Clogged arteries are a result of plaque buildup on the inner walls of the blood vessels. Arterial plaque is a substance that can decrease the blood flow through the arteries, or over a period of time, block the blood flow altogether. Clogged arteries can greatly increase your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or even lead to death. There are some signs and symptoms that act as a warning sign to let you know that you may be having clogged or blocked arteries. So how can you tell if you have blocked arteries? Let us take a look.
What Causes Blocked Arteries?
The accumulation of plaque is the primary cause of clogged or blocked arteries. Plaque starts to buildup on the inner walls of the arteries. Plaque is made up of several different substances that circulate in the blood. These include.
- Cellular waste
- Fibrin, a material that is responsible for blood clotting
As a response to the plaque buildup, the cells present in the artery walls start to multiply and start secreting substances that worsen the state of the blocked arteries. Over a period of time, as these plaque deposits start to grow, you end up developing a condition known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis causes the arteries to become narrow and start to harden.
While most medical experts still do not know what exactly starts atherosclerosis, it is believed that the condition stems from the damage caused to the lining of the arterial wall.
This damage to the arterial wall that allows for the easy deposition of plaque may be caused by the following.
High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol or low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. High levels of the bad cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) are known to the biggest contributors to the formation of arterial plaque. However, even low levels of the good cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) can help in the buildup of plaque. HDL is responsible for removing a certain level of the bad cholesterol from plaque in the blocked arteries and transporting it back to the liver to be eliminated from the body.
High blood pressure or hypertension. Having high blood pressure substantially increases the rate of arterial plaque buildup. Hypertension also increases the speed at which the clogged arteries start to harden up.
- Diabetes. Diabetes or even an elevated level of circulating blood glucose, such as seen in people with metabolic syndrome, is also another major factor responsible for plaque formation in the arteries.
- Cigarette smoke. This may sound surprising for many, but cigarette smoke, even second-hand smoke, increases the rate of atherosclerosis in the blood vessels of the legs, the heart, and the aorta, which is the biggest artery in your body.
- Some of the other risk factors include family history, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and obesity.
- Plaque can even start to develop during the teenage or even childhood years. This leads to the development of blocked arteries in your middle age or later in life.
How Can You Tell If You Have Blocked Arteries?
In some instances, clogged arteries do not cause any noticeable symptoms until a major event takes place, such as a heart attack or a stroke. At other times, though, especially if the artery is already clogged by 70 percent or more, the buildup of plaque can cause many symptoms. These include.
- Chest pain or angina
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
- Pain in your legs, arms, or anywhere where there is a blocked artery
- Confusion, which can occur if the arterial blockage affects the circulation of blood to the brain
- Muscle weakness especially in the legs from lack of proper blood circulation
The first symptom you are likely to feel is chest pain, also known as angina. Angina may be a result of the reduced blood flow to your heart. This reduced flow of blood is directly caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries that lead to the heart.
Clogged arteries in the case of carotid artery disease may also cause stroke precursors, which are known as TIAs or transient ischemic attacks. In the case of TIAs, you may experience the following symptoms.
- Slurring of words
- Inability to move a leg or an arm
- A sensation of numbness or weakness on just one side of the body
- Loss of vision on one side only
In the case of clogged arteries in peripheral artery disease, you may experience the following symptoms.
At the same time, plaque buildup increases the risk of a heart attack and stroke, so it is important that you are aware of the symptoms of heart attack and stroke as well. Both of these conditions require immediate medical attention.
The symptoms of a heart attack are as follows.
- Chest pain
- Discomfort in the chest
- Pain in the back, neck, shoulders, arms, and the jaw
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling a sense of impending doom
The common symptoms of stroke are.
- Trouble speaking
- Numbness or weakness in the limbs or even the face
- Vision problems
- Trouble understanding another’s speech
- Loss of balance
- Sudden and severe headache
If you experience any of these symptoms, then you need to immediately seek medical help or reach an emergency room.
Hidden Signs of Blocked Arteries
Apart from the common signs of clogged arteries, there are also some hidden signs of blocked arteries that should be taken as a warning sign. These include.
Lower Back Pain. You are likely to associate discomfort in the lower back with a bad sleeping posture or even chalk it up to a bad mattress, but if the pain persists, then you should pay attention to this warning sign. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, lower back pain is usually due to insufficient levels of blood reaching that particular area of the body, causing the disks that are present between your vertebrae to begin aching. A reduced amount of flow to the lower back is usually from blocked arteries. So before ignoring persistent lower back pain, make sure that you start taking note of any other symptoms that may be indicating that you have clogged arteries.
Pain in the Hips, Thighs, Or Calves. As you age, it becomes natural for your joints to start aching a bit more. However, if you start noticing a gradual increase in leg pain, especially in your thighs, calves, or hips, when you walk, then you should not ignore this sign. This could be an indication that you have peripheral arterial disease, a condition which occurs when there is an accumulation of plaque in the leg arteries. Many people think that the legs are far away from the heart, but the fact is that arteries in the leg also matter. If your legs are hurting persistently, then there is a 50 percent chance that you could be having a blockage in your heart artery.
Erectile Dysfunction. This could be an embarrassing issue, but it is actually more common than what most people think. Erectile dysfunction could indicate that your arteries are already in deep trouble. Clogged arteries can lower the blood flow to the genital area, inducing erectile dysfunction. If you have erectile dysfunction, then you should consult a doctor and request screening for heart disease.
Lifestyle changes can help prevent plaque buildup in your arteries. If you experience any of these symptoms, then it is recommended that first, you get a full heart checkup done from your doctor, and secondly, you incorporate certain healthy changes in your lifestyle. Following a heart-healthy diet, avoiding processed and fatty foods, adding fish to your diet, regular exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, are all steps you can take to avoid blocked arteries.