Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Clogged Artery

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Clogged arteries can cut off the blood supply to different areas of your body. The location of the clog, or occlusion, dictates the signs and symptoms.

Arteries carry blood that is full of oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body. When this supply is cut off for any reason, you may experience symptoms, which can vary in severity. Some tissues and organs can withstand some drop in blood supply and regenerate, while others die off.

This article explores some of the main types of blocked arteries, where they can happen, and what symptoms you might notice. It also covers tests and treatments you might expect if you have clogged arteries.

When you think of clogged arteries, the heart may be the first thing that comes to your mind — and for good reason.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease in the United States. It develops when the arteries that supply your heart with blood become narrowed or blocked over time. These blockages are often the result of by a buildup of fats that cause plaques.

The plaques can increase in size until no blood can flow through them, or pieces of the plaques can break off and lodge in other areas of your blood vessels.

Another common type of artery blockage is a stroke. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage similar to those that can occur in CAD, but this blockage happens in a blood vessel that supplies blood and oxygen to your brain.

In the case of both CAD and ischemic stroke, seconds count. Tissues in your heart and brain can die off quickly without oxygen, resulting in permanent damage. A blockage in your coronary arteries usually causes a heart attack, while a stroke can cause neurological symptoms.

Symptoms of a clogged coronary artery

Symptoms of a blocked coronary artery include:

  • chest pain that radiates into your neck, jaw, arm, or back
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • syncope (sudden loss of consciousness)

Symptoms of a clogged cerebral artery

Symptoms of a clog in your cerebral arteries may include:

  • facial drooping
  • slurred speech
  • balance problems
  • vision changes
  • loss of consciousness

Stroke symptoms are very specific to the particular area of the brain where blood flow has been cut off. Once these tissues are damaged, function in those areas cannot be restored.

Similarly, clogged arteries in other areas of the body will produce symptoms specific to those areas. For example, a clog in a peripheral artery can cause swelling in your feet and legs, while a retinal artery blockage can cause vision changes.

Arteries move blood to every organ and tissue in your body. If you notice symptoms that weaken or reduce function in any area of your body, discuss these symptoms with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Unusual symptoms that might pop up include:

  • changes in skin color
  • changes in urination
  • back pain
  • cold hands or feet
  • erectile dysfunction

Chest pain, shortness of breath, and loss of consciousness are examples of symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

High cholesterol is one of the biggest risk factors for developing clogged arteries.

Cholesterol is a fat that circulates in your blood and can build up on the walls of your arteries and veins. As cholesterol and other substances build up on your blood vessel walls, the space that blood can pass through becomes smaller and smaller. Eventually, your veins or arteries can become completely blocked.

Genetics and family history play a large role in the development of cardiovascular diseases and high cholesterol.

Some other factors can also increase your risk of having a clogged artery. Examples include:

Checking for clogged arteries isn’t something you can do at home with a measurement tool. Tracking your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels can provide clues about a problem in your cardiovascular system. However, changes in your vision or urination habits can also be symptoms of arterial blockages in different areas of your body.

To check for or confirm a diagnosis of an arterial blockage, your doctor may perform the following tests:

These tests, along with measurements such as your heart rate, oxygen level, and blood pressure, can give your healthcare team valuable clues about how well your heart is working and whether enough blood is reaching the more distant tissues in your body.

How clogged arteries are treated depends on:

  • what caused the blockage
  • what symptoms you’re having
  • how severe the problem is

If your doctor knows that your cholesterol is high or your arteries are narrowed or stiffened, they may prescribe you a combination of lifestyle strategies and medications. These suggestions will focus on reducing buildup in your blood vessels and increasing the overall health and strength of your heart.

Advanced disease or blockage

If your arteries have become clogged to the point of a full blockage that has caused a heart attack, a stroke, or another serious condition, more invasive treatments will usually be necessary.

Doctors can use some minimally invasive techniques to help clear blocked arteries. These treatments usually involve placing a catheter through arteries in your arm or groin.

Catheters

Healthcare professionals feed small tools through these catheters to help deliver medication or manually clear the blockage at the source. The most commonly used technique in this category, percutaneous coronary intervention, is used to treat some types of heart attacks.

Methods can vary depending on the part of your body affected, but the goal is to clear the clog using medications that thin your blood or tiny tools to clear the blockage.

Stents

Healthcare professionals may place devices called stents in the area of the clot to help the blood vessel stay open. After receiving a stent, you may need to take blood-thinning medications for some time, or even permanently, to prevent the formation of new clot. This procedure may be called angioplasty.

Removal of blocked sections

In some cases, you may need an open procedure that involves removing blocked sections of your blood vessels. Healthcare professionals will replace your blood vessels with pieces from other areas of your body or reconnect them in new places. This is called a heart bypass or a coronary artery bypass graft.

Arteries carry blood, nutrients, and oxygen throughout your body. Any disruption of blood flow in your arteries can lead to tissue damage. If blood flow to your brain or heart is interrupted, even for a moment, the result can be fatal.

Talk with a healthcare professional about your risks for cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, and other conditions that can lead to a full blockage of critical blood flow.

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