Clogged arteries or also known as arterial plaque is a serious medical condition in which the arteries are blocked due to buildup of fatty deposits known as plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. These blocked arteries tend to reduce or completely block the blood flow, thus greatly endangering the life of a person due to heart attack or stroke.

Arteries are the blood vessels, which carry the oxygen-rich blood throughout the body from the brain to the tips of the toes. Generally, healthy arteries have smooth and high-functional inner walls, which help the blood flow through them easily. A buildup of fatty deposits due to unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, etc. in the inner walls of the arteries, causes them to become narrowed or even completely blocked in some cases; thus, increasing the danger for a person.

Clogged arteries are also the underlying condition for coronary heart diseases and other circulatory disorders.

Causes of Clogged Arteries

Clogged arteries are a typical result of the accumulation or buildup of the fibrous and fatty substance (made of fat, cholesterol and cellular waste) called plaque. This blockage or buildup may be caused due to several factors such as:

  • Bad cholesterol: This type of cholesterol sticks your arteries causing plaque buildup and blockage.
  • Saturated fats: These fats found in meat and dairy products lead to an increase of bad cholesterol and build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries.
  • Trans fat: A type of fat found in processed food that accumulates in the arteries and causes blockages.
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglyceride: Triglycerides are a type of fat that block the arteries and thus lead to building up of plaque
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar leads to coronary damage-causing blockages.
  • Obesity: Excessive weight causes multiple other conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. 
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Family history
  • Increasing age
  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Dosage of harmful drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines

Plaque starts developing from childhood or teen years and eventually causes clogging of the arteries by one’s middle age or even later. In response to the buildup of plaque in the inner walls of the arteries, the cells of the artery walls multiply and thus, let out additional substances, which further worsen the clogged arteries. As these deposits increase, the person develops a condition known as atherosclerosis which makes the arteries narrow and hard, thus reducing the blood flow.

Complications of Clogged Arteries

Depending on where the plaque accumulates, the clogged arteries can affect different parts of the body and lead to multiple medical conditions. These include:

Coronary artery disease: Coronary artery disease is a condition in which the coronary arteries, which are responsible for supplying blood, oxygen and nutrients to the heart tissue, are narrowed or blocked due to build-up of plaque. When these arteries are blocked or narrowed due to accumulation of plaque – fatty material within the walls of the arteries – the heart is restricted or limited of supply of oxygen-rich blood, causing severe symptoms including a heart attack in severe cases.

Carotid artery disease: The carotid arteries are located on either side of the neck and are responsible for supplying oxygen to the brain. The accumulation of plaque in these arteries can cause a stroke.

Peripheral artery disease: Peripheral arteries are blood vessels which carry blood to the legs. When these arteries are blocked or narrowed due to accumulation of the fatty substance, the amount of oxygen delivered to the legs is reduced. This leads to pain, numbness or severe infection in the legs or feet.

Treatment of Clogged Arteries

Clogged arteries are a serious condition which needs medical intervention, as soon as they are diagnosed. Treatment for clogged arteries depends on the place and severity of the arteries, the general health and age of the person, and past medical history. Some treatment options include:

Lifestyle changes: A healthy lifestyle can help manage the clogged arteries and even treat the condition. These lifestyle changes can help prevent the clogging of arteries, in the first place, provided they are taken up early in life. These changes include:

  • Eating a nutritious diet which is low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Also, sugar and excessive intake of carbohydrates are not good. While on the other hand, fruits and vegetables should be included in the diet.
  • Quitting smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Being physically active and engaging in exercise and workout
  • Managing stress levels
  • Keeping health vitals in check such as blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels

Surgical or interventional treatment: In some cases, where the clogged arteries have triggered a serious condition, surgical intervention may be required. Some of the common procedures include:

Balloon Angioplasty: Balloon Angioplasty is a surgical procedure performed immediately after a heart attack to restore the flow of blood in the heart by removing the blockages from the coronary arteries. These blocked arteries are a cause of heart attack and thus, this course of treatment helps the person recover and rejuvenate heart health by opening the blood vessels and restoring the supply of blood to the heart. It is the most commonly opted course of treatment where the doctor inserts a catheter mounted with a tiny balloon into the blocked artery through an incision in the arm or groin. The doctors then guide the catheter to the exact spot of blockage by using special dyes, X-rays, etc. and once it’s in the right position – the tiny balloon is inflated to remove the blockage from the artery and clear the passage to allow blood flow by pushing the plaque build-up to the walls of the artery. Once the blood supply is regulated, the balloon is deflated and removed from the body. This procedure is often time followed by the placement of a stent – a stainless steel mesh – in the heart of the patient to ensure the arteries do not clog again in future. Some stents (such as drug-eluting stents) are medically coated to keep the arteries from narrowing again.

Stent Placement or Stenting: Post angioplasty, sometimes the doctors’ place a stainless steel mesh is known as a stent in the heart to ensure the arteries do not clog again. Some stents are also medically coated to avoid narrowing of the arteries in future. These stents are placed on top of the balloon on the catheter, such as that upon the opening of the balloon, the stent opens up and reinforces the walls of the artery.

Bypass Surgery: A heart bypass surgery is performed to restore the blood flow and oxygen to the heart by using blood vessels from another part of the body – such as the chest, or leg veins – and connecting them with blood vessels that are below or above the blocked or narrowed artery; hence, leading to a bypass for the compromised artery. The number of arteries used to connect is dependent on the severity of the condition. The procedure is highly successful and is one of the prime methods used to correct blockages, narrowing or leakages in arteries.

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