Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood and nutrients from the heart throughout the body. Healthy arteries are smooth and blood passes through them easily. But a buildup of cholesterol, fat, and calcium, called plaque, in the inner walls of the arteries can slow down blood flow, sometimes blocking it altogether.
Clogged or blocked arteries can lead to hypertension, strokes, or even death, so it is vital to understand the signs and symptoms of blocked arteries.
For an appointment at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, complete an appointment-request form or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).
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Symptoms of Blocked Arteries
Blocked arteries can become too narrow and hardened to function properly. While you may have no obvious signs early on, symptoms can develop as plaque builds up in the arteries.
The hardening and narrowing of the arteries is called atherosclerosis. This condition can lead to peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the legs and arms. Initially, PAD may cause pain and make walking difficult.
When PAD affects the aorta (the body’s main blood vessel) or iliac arteries that carry blood to the legs and pelvic organs, it can cause aortoiliac occlusive disease. This disease develops over a lifetime with varying symptoms which include pain or cramping in the thighs, buttocks, or calves when walking. When resting, sufferers may feel pain in their toes, cold or numbness in their legs, and develop leg or foot ulcers that don’t heal. If the arterial blockages remain, a total loss of circulation to the legs and feet can occur, sometimes resulting in gangrene and the loss of a limb.
Other symptoms of blocked arteries include shortness of breath and excessive fatigue after physical activity.
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Do I Have Blocked Arteries?
Some common risks factors for blocked arteries are:
- A diet high in saturated and trans fats, salt, and processed foods
- Lack of exercise
- High blood pressure
- Cigarette smoking
Having more than one of these risk factors increases your chances of developing blocked arteries. For example, if you don’t exercise, you may become overweight or obese, which increases your chances of developing diabetes and/or high blood pressure.
Your risk also is higher if your father or brother was diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 55, or your mother or sister received a diagnosis before age 65.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
If you are experiencing symptoms of a blocked artery or have a family history of this disease, you should speak with our doctors. For an appointment at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, complete an appointment-request form or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).
The doctor may suggest tests such as a cholesterol screening, chest x-rays, CT scans, or an ultrasound. We also can help you manage stress, weight, diabetes, or high blood pressure, and quit smoking, which can help reduce your risk of blocked arteries.
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.