Presse Santé

Atherosclerosis: symptoms and prevention of clogged arteries

Atherosclerosis occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body (arteries) become thick and stiff. They end up restricting blood flow to your organs and tissues. Healthy arteries are flexible and elastic, but over time the artery walls can harden, a condition commonly known as hardening of the arteries.

Atherosclerosis is a specific type of arteriosclerosis, but the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on artery walls (plaque), which can restrict blood flow. The plaque can burst, creating a blood clot. Although atherosclerosis is often thought of as a heart problem, it can affect arteries anywhere in the body. Atherosclerosis can be prevented and treated.

Symptoms of atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis develops gradually, usually without symptoms. You usually won’t have symptoms of atherosclerosis until an artery becomes so narrow or clogged that it can’t supply enough blood to your organs and tissues. Sometimes a blood clot completely blocks blood flow, or even ruptures and can trigger a heart attack or stroke.

The symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis depend on the affected arteries. For example :

– If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries of the heart, you may have symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure (angina pectoris).

– If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to the brain, you may have signs and symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, slurred or slurred speech, temporary loss of vision in one eye, or loss of muscles in the face. . These indicate a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which, if left untreated, can develop into a stroke.

– If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries of your arms and legs, you may have symptoms of peripheral arterial disease, such as leg pain when walking (claudication).

– If you have atherosclerosis in the arteries leading to the kidneys, you are developing high blood pressure or kidney failure.

When to see a doctor

If you think you have atherosclerosis, talk to your doctor. Also watch out for early symptoms of inadequate blood flow, such as chest pain (angina pectoris), leg pain, or numbness.

Early diagnosis and treatment can keep atherosclerosis from getting worse and prevent a heart attack, stroke, or another medical emergency.

development of atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that can begin in childhood. Although the exact cause is unknown, atherosclerosis can begin with damage to the inner lining of an artery. Damage can be caused by:

  • – Arterial hypertension
  • – High cholesterol
  • – High triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid) in the blood
  • – Smoking and other sources of tobacco
  • – Insulin resistance, obesity, or diabetes
  • – Inflammation caused by diseases such as arthritis, lupus, infections, or inflammation of unknown cause

Once the inner lining of an artery is damaged, blood cells and other substances often clump together at the site of the injury and build upon the inner lining of the artery.

Over time, fatty deposits (plaque) made of cholesterol and other cellular products also build up at the site of injury and harden, narrowing the arteries. The organs and tissues connected to the blocked arteries do not receive enough blood to function properly.

Eventually, parts of the fat deposits can break off and enter the bloodstream.

Also, the smooth lining of plaque can break down and leak cholesterol and other substances into the bloodstream. This can cause a blood clot, which can block blood flow to a specific part of your body, such as when blocking blood flow to the heart causes a heart attack. A blood clot can also travel to other parts of your body, blocking blood flow to another organ.

Atherosclerosis risk factors

Hardening of the arteries occurs over time. In addition to aging, factors that increase the risk of atherosclerosis include:

  • – Arterial hypertension
  • – High cholesterol
  • – Diabetes
  • – Obesity
  • – Smoking and other uses of tobacco
  • – Family history of early heart disease
  • – Lack of exercise
  • – Unhealthy diet


Complications of atherosclerosis depend on the blocked arteries. For example :

– Coronary heart disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries near the heart, you can develop coronary artery disease, which can cause chest pain (angina), heart attack, or heart failure.

– Carotid artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries near your brain, you can develop carotid artery disease, which can cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.

– Peripheral artery disease. When atherosclerosis narrows the arteries in your arms or legs, you may develop circulation problems in your arms and legs, known as peripheral arterial disease. This can make you less sensitive to heat and cold, increasing your risk of burns or frostbite. In rare cases, poor circulation in the arms or legs can cause tissue death (gangrene).

– Aneurysms. Atherosclerosis can also cause aneurysms, a serious complication that can occur anywhere in the body. An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of your artery. Most people with aneurysms have no symptoms. Pain and throbbing can occur in the area of ​​an aneurysm and is a medical emergency. If an aneurysm bursts, you can experience life-threatening internal bleeding. Although it is usually a sudden and catastrophic event, a slow leak is possible. If a blood clot in an aneurysm breaks loose, it can block an artery at a distant point.

– Chronic kidney disease. Atherosclerosis can cause the arteries leading to the kidneys to narrow, preventing oxygenated blood from reaching them. Over time, this can affect your kidney function, preventing waste from leaving your body.


The same healthy lifestyle changes that are recommended to treat atherosclerosis also help prevent it. These include:

  • – Give up smoking
  • – Eat healthy food
  • – Exercise regularly
  • – Keep a healthy weight

Remember to make changes step by step and keep in mind which lifestyle changes are most manageable for you in the long run.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information provided can not replace the advice of a health professional.

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