Atherosclerosis: Signs and Symptoms of The Number One Killer

What are clogged arteries and their effect on health?

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. Most of the arteries in our body carry oxygen and nutrient rich blood to vital organs, structures, and tissues within our body. Like pipes in our homes or in our cars, arteries can become clogged. Atherosclerosis is the condition in which arteries become clogged due to build up of a substance called plaque.

Plaque is a material that is made up of fat, cholesterol and other substances in our blood. As time progresses plaque increases and hardens leading to a narrowing of the arteries. This narrowing, or clogging of the arteries can have profound effects on our body and health. Atherosclerosis, which is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, is the number one killer of individuals globally. Clogged arteries can lead to damage to our heart leading to a heart attack or myocardial infarction. This occurs when our heart is unable to get enough blood flow to provide oxygen needed to keep the heart muscle healthy and alive. These attacks due to lack of blood flow can occur in other parts of the body. If the arteries that go to our brain is severely affected by being clogged we can be at risk from having a stroke due to lack of blood flow and oxygen to our brain. 

Possible signs and symptoms of clogged arteries: 

The initial stages of the formation of plaque buildup, or atherosclerosis, in our arteries is largely associated with no symptoms. However, as the disease progresses individuals can experience a variety of feelings that may be a sign of clogged arteries. The following are some of the symptoms people may experience that may be a sign of clogged arteries.

1) Chest pain/pressure

Chest pain or pressure can be a sign of clogged arteries of the heart. The heart is a muscular pump that is always beating, pumping blood that is a vital source of fuel to everywhere in our body. When the arteries to our heart becomes significantly blocked, people can experience chest pain as a symptom because the heart muscle is not receiving enough oxygen to support it in performing its function. This is often the most common symptom of men who are experiencing a heart attack. 

2) Shortness of breath

Women who are experiencing a heart attack, or myocardial infarction often do not experience the typical symptom of chest pain. They often experience shortness of breath. It is thought that this feeling is due to the heart having a decreased ability to fill and empty leading to increased pressures in the blood vessels in and around the lung. If the heart begins to fail in doing its job of efficiently pumping blood throughout the body, the flow of blood through the heart can become compromised leading to a backup of blood in the lungs. This can lead to the feeling of shortness of breath. This form of heart failure is often due to damage to the heart muscle because of clogged arteries to the heart.

3) Fatigue

People can experience fatigue because of heart failure secondary to clogged arteries. This is another symptom of heart disease that is one of the main signs of heart disease in women. If the heart is unable to get enough oxygen to perform its function, the heart will begin to work harder. This overtime work of the heart can lead to excessive tiredness.  

4) Indigestion

Indigestion, or the feeling of a burning sensation in the chest, can often be mistaken as a symptom of acid reflux or a digestive problem. However, this sensation can often be a sign of heart disease or a heart attack in women. Heartburn often occurs after a meal and can be relieved by antacids. If the feeling persists after taking antacid medications, this may be the sign of a heart attack, especially in women. One theory for such pain is related to inadequate blood flow due to atherosclerosis affecting the heart as it is working harder while we eat. 

5) Sweating

Individuals with heart disease can often experience a feeling of profuse sweating, or diaphoresis, that seems to be out of the ordinary. This can be related to the increased exertion the heart experiences in an effort to do its job in the face of clogged arteries. In an effort to keep one’s body temperature down the body sweats during this period of increased work. 

6) Leg pain

Some people may experience buttock, thigh, and/or calf pain after walking for a period of time. The pain is reported to be an aching, throbbing and or burning pain that goes away soon after resting for a period of time. This type of pain is called claudication. Claudication is due to a lack of blood flow to the muscles of the legs during walking or exercise. Again, the decrease in blood flow is due to atherosclerosis, or clogging of the arteries.  

7) Slurred speech

When arteries that supply the brain become clogged due to atherosclerosis people can experience symptoms of a stroke. Such symptoms include weakness on one side of the body, facial drooping, slurred speech, issues with memory and thinking clearly.  

8) Lightheadedness

The feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness as if one is going to pass out or the act of passing out may also be a sign of clogged arteries. Syncope, or the temporary loss of consciousness, is usually related to a lack of blood flow to the brain. This can occur when the arteries that go to the brain, the carotids, are clogged. It can also occur in a condition known as aortic stenosis. Aortic stenosis is a condition in which a valve in the largest artery in our body, the aortic valve, becomes severely calcified due to the same process of atherosclerosis that occurs in the small arteries of our bodies. An individual may pass out because of a lack of blood flow to their brain as blood is having a difficult time exiting the heart through a tight valve. 

9) Erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is often a symptom of men who have coronary artery disease. Just as the process of atherosclerosis has been previously discussed to occur in the small arteries that feed our hearts, this process can occur in the small arteries of the penis. Normal erectile function is supported by healthy blood flow into and out of the penis. When the flow of blood into the penis is compromised this leads to erectile dysfunction. Due to the fact that one of the earliest stages of heart disease is a malfunction of the blood vessels not being able to open properly, this can often be first observed in the penis with erectile dysfunction.

10) No symptoms

Although there are a constellation of symptoms that may be attributed to clogged arteries, the initial symptoms of clogged arteries are no symptoms at all. In fact, when a patient does begin to experience symptoms of clogged arteries it is often a sign of advanced disease. 

In conclusion, arteries are those blood vessels that take oxygen rich blood to places all throughout our bodies. The passage of blood through arteries can be compromised when atherosclerosis, or clogging of the arteries, occurs. People can experience a variety of symptoms related to atherosclerosis. The spectrum of symptoms range from having no symptoms at all to, erectile dysfunction, lightheadedness, indigestion and chest pain. If you, or someone you know is experiencing such symptoms this could be a sign of heart disease and seeking medical attention may be in order. 

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