Statistics show that every year in the United States, more than 600,000 people die out of a heart disease every year. Out of those, nearly 400,000 are due to coronary heart disease, making clogged arteries the single most common type of heart disease 1.
The problem is that symptoms of clogged arteries might not show up for years.
Sometimes, it takes coronary artery disease decades to develop, and you might not notice a problem until you have a significant blockage or a heart attack. With that in mind, there is plenty you can do to prevent the problem from escalating.
The first thing is to learn how to recognize the problem. Coronary artery disease develops when the major blood vessels that supply the heart with blood, oxygen, and other nutrients become damaged or diseased.
When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, they become narrowed, decreasing the blood flow to the heart. Eventually, the decreased blood flow can manifest symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms of clogged arteries.
Early detection is best at preventing coronary disease. Early prevention and detection means making lifestyle changes that can delay or deny the onset of a heart attack.
With small and moderate lifestyle changes, more than 80% of heart diseases can be prevented.
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What are the symptoms?
There are two types of symptoms of clogged arteries. For starters, there are obvious and related signs and some that look unrelated at first glance.
The obvious signs manifest when the coronary arteries narrow, and they cannot supply enough oxygen, blood, and nutrients to the heart. At first, the decreased blood flow may not cause any symptoms. But as plaque continues to build up, you will notice some symptoms.
Here are some of those:
You will feel pressure or tightness in your chest. It feels like someone is standing on your chest.
The pain, which is often referred as angina, occurs on the middle or left side of the chest. Angina symptoms are triggered and worsened by physical or emotional stress.
The pain will go away within minutes after stopping the stressful activity. In some people, most notably in women, the pain can radiate towards the neck, arm, and back.
Shortness of breath
When your heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body, the logical repercussion is shortness of breath.
Simply put, you cannot breathe properly because your heart is not working properly. You can also notice symptoms of fatigue due to a low amount of oxygen and blood.
A heart attack is usually a symptom that comes in the later stages of coronary artery disease. Completely blocked arteries will cause a heart attack, and the classic symptoms of a heart attack include pressure in the chest, pain in the shoulder or arm, and shortness of breath and sweating.
Men have a built-in warning system for silent coronary heart disease. When achieving an erection is difficult or impossible, this might be a sign of clogged arteries in the pelvis. This symptom appears before a heart attack.
On average, it takes three to five years to go from erectile dysfunction and diagnosis of coronary heart disease 2.
Therefore, if you are a male, and you have troubles achieving an erection, it is worth checking it out with your physician. Do not just pop the blue pill, look for the root of the problem.
Studies have shown that severe baldness at the crown of the head is a strong predicament for the presence of silent coronary heart disease 3.
More so, some studies claim that early baldness is a bigger risk factor than obesity 4.
That is definitely something to think about. If you start noticing baldness symptoms, check your heart health.
As mentioned previously, there are some logical, and some strange symptoms of clogged arteries. Ear crease definitely falls into the latter category.
Specifically, we are talking about an angled crease in the ear that runs diagonally from the canal to the lower edge of the earlobe 5.
Medical experts believe the ear crease can be a result of poor circulation, including in arteries in the heart. While some health care experts say that the crease is just a general sign of aging, it doesn’t hurt to check it out. Better to be safe than sorry.
Calf pain while walking
The medical term for this condition is claudication. The reason is atherosclerosis can block leg arteries, and it is most notable in smokers.
This happens before coronary heart disease is diagnosed. You need an evaluation without delay if you notice calf pain while walking.
Once at the doctor’s office, your physician will examine the pulses in your legs and perform simple measurements to eliminate or diagnose heart disease.
Causes and risk factors
Coronary heart disease is caused by damage or injury to the inner layer of a coronary artery. The damage can happen as early as childhood. There are a number of factors and causes that can result in damage or injury.
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance
- Sedentary lifestyle
Once the inner wall of the artery is damaged, fatty deposits made of cholesterol accumulate at the site of the injury.
The process is called atherosclerosis. If the surface of the plaque breaks or ruptures, blood cells will clump at the site in an effort to repair the artery.
There are a number of risk factors associated with symptoms of clogged arteries.
Here is a complete list of risk factors that can vastly contribute to you developing coronary heart disease.
- Age – When we get older, the risk of damaged and narrowed arteries increases
- Sex – Men are generally at greater risk of clogged arteries, but the risk for women increases after menopause
- Family history – Genetics plays a huge role and if you have a family member with coronary heart disease, the risk for you increases
- Smoking – People who smoke or being exposed to secondhand smoke is also a huge risk
- High blood pressure – Uncontrolled blood pressure will result in hardening and thickening of the arteries
- High cholesterol levels – High levels of cholesterol in your blood will increase the risk of formation of plaque
- Diabetes – The condition is well known to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Type 2 diabetes and coronary disease share similar risk factors, including obesity and high blood pressure
- Obesity – Excess weight puts more pressure on your heart and arteries
- Physical inactivity – Lack of exercise can result in obesity, which we mentioned is a risk factor
- Constant high stress – Unrelieved stress will damage the arteries in the long run
- Unhealthy diet – Following a diet rich in foods that are high in saturated fat, salt, sugar, and trans fat 6
Dangers of untreated clogged arteries
Clogged arteries are a step before coronary artery disease. But as mentioned previously, early detection and prevention is key to successful treatment.
With that in mind, here are the dangers of arterial plaque and clogged arteries in the long run:
- When plaque accumulates in the arteries that carry blood and oxygen to the heart, the result is coronary heart disease or a heart disease. The end result is a heart attack, which can be fatal and life-threatening
- Carotid artery disease, these are arteries that run up either side of your neck, and supply oxygen to the brain. Accumulation of plaque in the carotid arteries, usually results in stroke
- Peripheral artery disease, when plaque builds up in the blood vessels carrying blood to the legs. The symptoms of this disease are pain and numbness in legs and feet
How can you test for clogged arteries?
If you suspect you have symptoms of clogged arteries, the best thing to do is schedule an appointment at your doctor’s office. If you are having symptoms of heart attack, you should immediately call local emergency number.
With that in mind, if you suspect in clogged arteries, there are a number of tests you can perform to diagnose the condition. Your doctor will determine which test is the best one to check for clogged arteries, depending on the symptoms you manifest and your medical history.
- CT scan
- Chest X-Ray
- Cholesterol screening
- MRI scanning
- PET scanning
- Cardiac stress test
What is the treatment for clogged arteries?
Depending on the severity of your clogged arteries, there are a number of prevention and treatment options 7.
Once your doctor diagnoses clogged arteries, you can discuss about treatment options. Sometimes, if the clogging is in its early stages, just some small changes can help you manage the problem.
For mild to moderate severity of clogged arteries, doctors usually prescribe simple lifestyle changes that can help you manage arterial plaque.
Some of the changes include:
- Quit smoking
- Following a diet that is low in saturated fats, sugars, and simple carbs
- Following a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Keep blood pressure down
- Maintain low blood sugar levels
- Practice regular exercise
There are several medications that can help with clogged arteries. They focus on controlling the factors that contribute to the accumulation of plaque.
The medications include:
- Blood pressure lowering drugs
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Aspirin and similar blood-thinning drugs
In severe cases, doctors have no other option than surgery or interventional procedure. In this cases, surgery is necessary.
The options for surgery include:
- Stent surgery, when a small tube containing medications is placed in an artery to maintain blood flow
- Bypass surgery, in which arteries from other parts of the body are moved to bypass clogged arteries and help oxygen and nutrients reach their final destination
- Balloon angioplasty, a procedure that helps open clogged arteries that are partially or fully blocked