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Clogged Arteries (Arterial Plaque)

Do clogged arteries cause any symptoms?

In many instances, clogged arteries do not cause any symptoms until a major event, such as a heart attack or stroke, occurs.

At other times, though, the buildup of arterial plaque may cause symptoms that may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

The first symptom, chest pain, is also called angina. It may result from reduced blood flow to the heart. That reduced blood flow is caused by plaque in the arteries leading to the heart.

Clogged arteries in carotid artery disease may cause stroke precursors known as transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs. TIAs may produce the following symptoms:

  • Sensation of weakness or numbness on one side of your body
  • Inability to move an arm or a leg
  • Loss of vision on one side only
  • Slurring of words

Clogged arteries in peripheral artery disease may cause:

  • Leg pain
  • Delayed healing of injuries to the feet
  • Cold feet
  • Gangrene

Are there tests for clogged arteries?

Yes. There are several tests for clogged arteries. Your doctor will determine which tests to prescribe based on your symptoms and medical history. The tests may include:

  • Cholesterol screening
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Echocardiogram and/or cardiac stress test
  • Electrocardiogram
  • MRI or PET scanning
  • Angiogram

How are clogged arteries or arterial plaque treated?

There are a variety of prevention and treatment options for clogged arteries. What your doctor prescribes to reduce arterial plaque and prevent clogged arteries will depend on the severity of your condition and your medical history. Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following:

1. Lifestyle changes. A healthy lifestyle is essential for the management of arterial plaque and treatment of clogged arteries. This includes:

  • Eating a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol and rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Not smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Managing stress levels

2. Surgical procedures. In some instances, surgery may be necessary to treat clogged arteries and prevent additional arterial plaque accumulation. Surgery may include:

  • Stent placement. A metal tube called a stent, which may contain medication, can be placed in an artery to maintain adequate blood flow.
  • Bypass surgery. In this operation, arteries from other parts of the body are moved to bypass clogged arteries and help oxygen-rich blood reach its target destination.
  • Balloon angioplasty. This procedure helps open clogged arteries that have become partially or fully blocked.

3. Medications. A number of medications may help control some of the factors that contribute to the accumulation of arterial plaque. These include:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Blood pressure-lowering drugs
  • Aspirin and other blood-thinning drugs, which reduce the likelihood of dangerous blood clot formation
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Thomas M. Maddox, MD on July 15, 2012

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