Clogged arteries: Signs and symptoms of arterial plaque

clogged arteriesThere are many causes for clogged arteries and arterial plaque including an unhealthy diet, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, and elevated blood sugar or diabetes. Clogged arteries are a preventable condition and you should work towards keeping your arteries as plaque-free as possible, or else it could land you in the hospital with a heart attack or stroke.

Arterial plaque lines the artery walls and can be made with various substances. Calcium, fat, cholesterol, cellular waste, and fibrin can all contribute to arterial plaque. When plaque begins to line the artery walls, additional substances can begin to be secreted in the body, worsening plaque buildup. As a result, artery passages become narrow and blood flow can be limited. This causes the heart to work harder, thus contributing to damage and ultimately leading to a cardiovascular event.


The body requires healthy circulation for proper functioning. If blood cannot reach the organs and extremities, your overall health is affected, resulting in sluggish digestion, memory problems, and the onset of other illnesses, too.

It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of clogged arteries in order to prevent these complications. When you are aware of what is going inside your body, you can take the necessary steps to make appropriate lifestyle changes in order to prevent complications.

Causes and complications of clogged arteries

Arterial plaque is comprised of many different substances including calcium, fat, cholesterol, cellular waste, and fibrin, which is involved in blood clotting. Aside from plaque sticking to the arterial walls, the artery walls themselves multiply and secrete substances that can worsen clogged arteries.

As plaque grows and thickens, it causes a condition known as atherosclerosis, which is when the arteries begin to narrow and stiffen as a result of plaque build-up.

Doctors suggest that the start of atherosclerosis may stem from damage caused to the arteries. This damage can occur for several different reasons including high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes and elevated blood sugar, a family history of atherosclerosis or heart disease, stress, living a sedentary life, and obesity.

Plaque build-up can begin as early as the teenage years. By middle-age, problems begin to arise because blood flow becomes limited as a result.

Arterial plaque and clogged arteries are dangerous for several different reasons. The arteries are the vessels that transport oxygenated blood, and if that blood supply is limited, it can contribute to several complications. Complications include:

Coronary artery disease: Also known as heart disease, coronary artery disease can contribute to chest pains and shortness of breath. Over time, coronary artery disease can increase your risk of a heart attack.

Carotid artery disease: The carotid artery runs up and down your neck to supply the brain with blood. If these arteries become clogged, it can lead to a stroke.

Peripheral artery disease: These arteries carry blood to your legs and lack of blood flow to the legs contributes to pain, numbness, and serious infection that develops in the legs and feet.

Signs and symptoms of clogged arteries

Angina (chest pain): This can be a scary symptom because you may think you are having a heart attack – in some cases, clogged arteries are so bad that you could very well be having a heart attack. Chest pain is a result of reduced blood flow and may feel like tightness, heaviness, or pressure. This type of chest pain is often triggered by physical or emotional exertion, so it won’t occur at rest.

Shortness of breath: Shortness of breath may be experienced when the blood cannot reach other parts of the body. You may experience greater fatigue after physical exertion.

Erectile dysfunction: When blood flow can’t reach the penis, it can lead to erectile dysfunction. In some cases, ED is an early sign of atherosclerosis or impending heart disease, so if your doctor cannot find another cause of your erectile dysfunction, clogged arteries may be the culprit.

Male pattern baldness: Studies have uncovered links between male pattern baldness and coronary heart disease.

Earlobe crease: Some studies have found that people with a creased earlobe often have heart disease. The studies did not prove causality, but only an association as earlobe creases can be caused by many other factors. It may still be something worth looking into.

Excessive sweating (night sweating): If a room you are in is generally cool but you can’t help but sweat – without being menopausal – it could be a sign of clogged arteries because your heart is working harder to pump blood to the rest of your body.

Weakness or dizziness: Dizziness or sudden lightheadedness could be a sign of clogged arteries or an early sign of stroke. Unexplained falls, loss of balance, and difficulty walking may all be explained by excessive plaque buildup.

Heart palpitations: Your heart may feel as though it is racing or skipping a beat, which could be a sign of clogged arteries. If you are experiencing heart palpitations along with some of the other symptoms listed, this may very well be a result of clogged arteries.

Indigestion, nausea, and vomiting: Lack of circulation to the digestive area can cause nausea, indigestion, and vomiting.

Leg and calf pain: If you experience leg or calf pain along with difficulties walking, it could signify clogged arteries. Cholesterol can lead to arterial plaque in the legs, which can prevent blood flow to these areas.

Tests to determine clogged arteries

triglycerides levelsNow that you are familiar with the signs and symptoms of clogged arteries, we will now cover the different tests your doctor may run to confirm diagnosis.


For starters, your doctor will run some heart imaging tests along with blood tests to measure cholesterol levels and other factors that can contribute to arterial plaques. Your doctor may also run an electrocardiogram to measure electrical signals, echocardiogram, and a stress test to measure how your heart is working.

Your doctor may also run additional tests to rule out other causes. For example, many of the symptoms associated with clogged arteries can also signify kidney problems, so your doctor may run urine samples or check you for peripheral artery disease, which is another circulatory problem.

In the meantime, it’s important that you clean up your diet and avoid unhealthy foods, not smoke, control your risk factors for clogged arteries such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol, and partake in regular exercise that fits your abilities – you don’t want to exert yourself. Get your doctor’s approval before beginning any exercise program.

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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