Heart and Vascular Health What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Blocked Arteries? By Heart and Vascular Institute, October 9, 2018 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). Learn more about staying heart healthy Enter your email to subscribe Sign Up I understand that by providing my email address, I agree to receive emails from UPMC. I understand that I may opt out of receiving such communications at any time. 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. 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 Stress Diabetes High blood pressure Cigarette smoking Genetics 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.