In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death in middle-aged men and women. Heart disease can take many forms, but its most common cause is blocked arteries that prevent blood from properly flowing through the body, and in some cases prevent the heart itself from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. Blocked arteries, or atherosclerosis, can be caused by a family history of the disease, a diet full of high-fat and LDL cholesterol or unhealthy habits such as smoking. If you recognize the symptoms of blocked arteries early on, you can prevent cardiac arrest–and save your life. The exact symptoms depend on which arteries are blocked.
Blocked arteries can start to cause problems even if an actual heart attack or stroke hasn't occurred yet. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, most people don't realize they have blocked arteries until they have a heart attack or stroke. Infection, chest pain, headaches and difficulty breathing are other common symptoms of blocked arteries, but are often attributed to other conditions.
When fatty deposits build up in your arteries, they create a thick plaque lining and cause the artery to become less flexible and thinner, thus making it harder for blood to flow properly. The coronary arteries–the main blood vessel that supply your heart–are most affected. If plaque obstructs blood flow to the heart, angina–chest pain–can be a result, according to the National Library of Medicine. Angina can feel like a squeezing sensation or general pain. Angina is commonly mistaken for indigestion, because the two can feel similar. Visit your doctor if you have chronic chest pain; it could be angina.
Where blockage of coronary arteries results in angina and shortness of breath, blockage of the carotid arteries can result in dizziness, numbed senses and headaches. The carotid arteries are located in the neck and supply blood to your brain. A stroke or death is the result of prolonged lack of adequate blood flow to the brain. Other symptoms can include numbness on one side of your body, difficulty speaking clearly or loss of vision or hearing on one side. According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, these symptoms usually vanish within 24 hours, but still should be examined by your physician as soon as possible.
Peripheral arteries are the arteries that lead to your arms and legs. The most common symptom of peripheral artery blockage is muscle pain in the legs. According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, only 50 percent of people who have peripheral artery blockage experience extreme pain. However, because the pain isn't severe, the condition goes unchecked. Muscle pain isn't the only symptom you should worry about–blood flow also gives the immune system its necessary nutrients. Infection can result from improper nutrition to tissues. In extreme cases, gangrene can result. Gangrene is the death of tissue, and can spread throughout the body.
Prevention of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is treatable and preventable. Blocked arteries come from a high-fat diet. To lower your chances of developing blocked arteries, eat foods low in fat and eat fish or take a fish oil supplement. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, because it keeps your cardiovascular endurance levels high and burns calories. Smoking can cause atherosclerosis; if you smoke, kick the habit as soon as possible. Above all else, if you have any symptoms you think are linked to blocked arteries, visit your doctor as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.