Arteries are like pipes throughout your body that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to different tissues and organs of the body.
Healthy arteries have smooth inner walls and blood moves through them easily. Clogged arteries result from the build up of plaque along the arterial walls.
Plaque can buildup in coronary, carotid, peripheral and renal arteries. It is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the blood that ultimately harden and narrow your arteries. This restricts the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs and other parts of your body.
Although the exact trigger of clogged arteries is unknown, contributing factors include increasing age, high cholesterol, high triglycerides (a type of fat, or lipid, in your blood), high blood pressure, obesity, excessive smoking, diabetes, inflammatory disease, and a family history of hardening of the arteries.
Plaque buildup in the arteries is slow and progressive. It may even begin as early as childhood.
As clogged arteries increase the likelihood of coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), strokes and even death, it is essential to know the symptoms so that you can treat the problem before it leads to serious consequences.
Here are the 10 possible signs and symptoms of clogged arteries you need to know.
1. Angina (Chest Pain)
Angina, or chest pain, caused by reduced blood flow to the heart is a possible sign of clogged arteries due to plaque buildup.
This type of chest pain leads to a feeling of tightness, heaviness and pressure behind the breastbone. It is usually triggered by physical or emotional stress and tends to get worse with physical activity and go away when you rest.
Chest pain doesn’t always indicate clogged arteries. At times, it can be due to a muscle spasm, stomach ulcer, upper respiratory infection, bladder disease or indigestion.
2. Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath can also indicate clogged arteries. Due to plaque in the arteries, the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs, leading to shortness of breath or extreme fatigue with exertion.
In a 2005 study done at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, researchers found that patients with shortness of breath have a higher risk of dying from cardiac disease than patients without symptoms, and even than patients with typical cardiac pain.
However, shortness of breath can also be due to heavy workouts, lack of oxygen in high-altitude areas, anemia, respiratory infection or disease, chronic bronchitis, and allergies.
3. Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction (ED), the most common male sexual problem that affects up to 30 million men in the United States, can also be a sign of clogged arteries and heart problems.
According to a 2011 article published in the Circulation journal, ED is common sign of atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries. Atherosclerosis often affects the penis first, then the heart and brain.
Apart from clogged arteries, ED can also be due to depression, low testosterone, nerve problems and some medications.
4. Male Pattern Baldness
Severe baldness at the crown of a man’s head may also indicate the presence of clogged arteries. Along with hair loss on the scalp, you may notice hair loss on your legs.
A 2000 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine highlighted the link between male pattern baldness and coronary heart disease (CHD), especially among men with hypertension or high cholesterol levels. Severe vertex balding (on the top, or crown, of the head) is usually associated with an increased risk of CHD.
Other common causes of male pattern baldness include heredity, certain cancers, medications, thyroid conditions and anabolic steroids.
5. Earlobe Crease
Believe it or not, a crease in your ear may also indicate clogged arteries. Specifically, an angled crease that runs obliquely from the ear canal to the lower edge of the earlobe is linked with coronary artery disease. An ear crease can be a sign of poor circulation due to clogged arteries in the heart.
A 1989 study published in the British Heart Journal pointed out the link between diagonal earlobe creases and fatal cardiovascular disease. Also, a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people with an ear crease are more likely to have coronary artery disease.
An ear crease may also appear due to aging or excessive smoking.
6. Excessive Sweating (Night Sweating)
Excessive sweating, especially at nighttime in an otherwise cool room, is another possible indication of arteries affected with plaque.
Sweating more than usual when you aren’t exercising or being active may indicate that your heart is having to work harder to pump blood through clogged arteries.
Excessive sweating can also occur due to stress, anxiety, obesity or nutritional deficiencies. Among older women, it may be a sign of menopause, too.
7. Weakness or Dizziness
Dizziness, a sudden feeling of light-headedness, is another sign of blocked arteries as well as an early warning sign of a possible stroke.
Dizziness as well as trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination, and unexplained falls can be due to plaque buildup in the carotid arteries. These arteries supply blood to the large, front part of the brain, where thinking, speech, personality, and sensory and motor functions reside.
The accumulation of fatty deposits in these arteries can cause narrowing of the arteries, thus reducing or completely blocking blood flow to the brain.
It can also be a symptom of low blood pressure, neurological problems, anemia, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), an ear infection, heat stroke, vision-related disorders, migraines, anxiety disorders and head injuries.
8. Heart Palpitations
When heart palpitations occur, you may feel like your heart is ‘racing’, thumping or skipping beats. People often feel this during exercise, times of stress and after consuming caffeine or nicotine.
In some people, heart palpitations can be a symptom of blocked arteries supplying the heart, especially when accompanied by symptoms like dizziness, fainting, blurred vision, chest pain, sweating and nausea. It can even indicate a more serious heart condition.
Other health conditions that may cause palpitations are electrolyte abnormalities, thyroid disorders, sleep apnea, certain medications, heart valve disorders and anemia.
9. Indigestion, Nausea and Vomiting
Clogged arteries leading to heart disease can also cause symptoms like indigestion, nausea, vomiting, fullness or choking feeling and other gastrointestinal problems due to lack of oxygen in the blood and poor circulation.
People who develop a blockage in the renal arteries that supply blood to the kidneys may also experience nausea, mild indigestion, abdominal pain or vomiting.
10. Leg and Calf Pain
If your legs hurt a lot or you have trouble walking distances, it may indicate a build up of plaque in the arteries that carry blood to your legs.
It is particularly a sign of peripheral artery disease, which means a build up of cholesterol and plaque in the arteries that lead to the extremities.
Peripheral artery disease leads to poor blood flow to your legs that causes discomfort in your legs and feet. This limits your walking and activities, which often affects your quality of life.
Mild pain in your legs can also be due to a muscle spasm, muscle fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration or standing for a long time. It can also indicate muscle strain, tendonitis, restless leg syndrome, arthritis and nerve damage, to name a few.