Learn more about treatment options for clogged blood vessels

Did you know that clogged blood vessels can happen anywhere in your body?

While you probably know about the link between blocked coronary (heart) arteries and heart attack, you may not realize that clogged blood vessels in other parts of your body can lead to serious, even life-threatening health problems.

To learn more about treatment options for blocked blood vessels, visit the UPMC Division of Vascular Surgery or call 412-802-3333.

Vascular surgeons treat clogged blood vessels in the legs, neck, and other parts of the body outside the brain and heart. Learn more about what causes these blockages and how your vascular surgeon will make a treatment plan that’s right for you.

What Causes Clogged Blood Vessels?

Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a very common cause of clogged blood vessels throughout the body. This condition happens when a hard substance called plaque builds up inside your artery walls, limiting or totally blocking blood flow.

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You might have a higher risk of atherosclerosis if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, if you smoke, or if you have a family history of arterial disease.

Why Are Clogged Blood Vessels Dangerous?

Atherosclerosis can happen in any artery in your body, limiting or blocking blood flow to your organs and tissue. When organs and tissue can’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need from healthy blood flow, they can’t work properly.

Two common atherosclerosis-related diseases include:

Carotid artery disease, which happens when the arteries that bring blood to your brain are blocked. This can lead to stroke, a medical emergency that can cause permanent disability or even death.

  • Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, which happens when the arteries that bring blood to your legs are blocked. PAD can cause symptoms like:
    • Pain with walking
    • Pain in your feet at rest
    • In the most severe cases, gangrene, or tissue death. Once tissue dies, it must be removed, sometimes through total amputation.

How Do Doctors Unclog Blood Vessels?

“There are a number of different ways to unclog an artery, depending on where it is and how bad the blockage is,” explains Eric Hager MD, a vascular surgeon at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

Vascular surgeons take the patient’s medical history and risk factors into account when choosing the best option for treatment, which can include:

  • Medicines and lifestyle changes. Your doctor may prescribe statins, which are medicines that can help lower your cholesterol, and a daily aspirin to prevent blood clots. A regular exercise program also will be recommended. According to Dr. Hager, this treatment approach has been shown to improve the distance people with PAD can walk before they experience pain.
  • Angioplasty and stenting. Some blockages, like shorter blockages in the legs, are best treated through a catheter-based procedure called angioplasty. During an angioplasty, your vascular surgeon places a catheter with a balloon at its tip into your artery and inflates the balloon to open the blockage. He or she may also place a stent, a tube made of metal mesh, into your artery to hold it open.
  • Surgery. Your vascular surgeon may recommend:
    • Endarterectomy, where plaque is scraped out of your artery
    • Bypass surgery, where blood flow is re-routed around a blockage using a graft from another vein in your body or a man-made material

Preventing Clogged Blood Vessels

“While there are many treatments for clogged blood vessels, it’s best to make healthy choices to prevent the blockages in the first place,” says Dr. Hager.

Healthy habits that can benefit your blood vessels include:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Avoiding or quitting smoking
  • Knowing your blood sugar numbers
  • Choosing fresh, whole foods
  • Limiting fatty, fried foods
  • Having regular checkups with your doctor to keep an eye on your risk factors and talk about any symptoms you may experience

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.