Heart disease is by far the most common cause of death in the United States. And though stroke is further down the list, it still accounts for over 150,000 deaths per year. This might seem unrelated, but both can be caused by clogged arteries.
Arteries are vessels within your body that carry oxygenated blood from your heart to your brain and all other parts of your body. It’s imperative that these vessels remain open and clear of blockages, allowing your blood to move freely throughout your body.
However, clogged arteries are all too common. When this happens, the body part affected by the block can suffer serious, even irreparable, damage.
This might sound frightening, and it should, but it isn’t unavoidable. There are steps you can take to prevent artery blockages and even clear those that already exist.
To learn everything you need to know about clogged arteries and how to manage and prevent them, just keep reading!
Symptoms of Clogged Arteries
First, let’s go over the symptoms of clogged arteries. If you suspect you have this condition, you need to set an appointment with a vein specialist or cardiologist immediately.
The symptoms of clogged arteries include the following:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Lower back pain
- Numbness or pain in the limbs
- Hair loss
- Cold hands or feet
- Decreased pulse in extremities
- Chronic sores or ulcers
These symptoms indicate that it’s time to set an appointment with the doctor but not that you’re in immediate danger. The signs of a medical emergency include:
- Sudden pain in arm or back
- Rapid heartbeat
- Unusual asymmetric facial features
- Sudden confusion
- Weakness on one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of vision
If any of these symptoms present themselves, seek emergency medical care right away, as you could be experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
Causes of Clogged Arteries
Clogged arteries are one of many types of vein diseases and are caused by atherosclerosis or peripheral artery disease. These are fancy names for a build-up of plaque made up of fats, cholesterol, minerals, and other substances within your arterial walls.
These buildups cause the arteries to narrow, making it difficult for blood to pass through. Because of this difficulty, your heart is forced to work harder to pump blood through the body. If you want to learn more about peripheral artery disease, Western Vascular can help.
Your body can handle a small amount of blockage, but too much, and you’ll suffer serious complications such as blood clots, heart attack, or stroke.
Now, this plaque can develop due to genetics, but that’s uncommon. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, atherosclerosis is the result of poor lifestyle choices.
Preventing and Treating Blocked Arteries
At this point, you may be wondering which lifestyle choices specifically cause clogged arteries. Not to worry, we’re going to go over each in detail. But first, let’s briefly go over how to tackle changing such choices.
When you’re approaching lifestyle change, it’s important to understand and accept up front that it’s a difficult task to accomplish. Many of our worst habits are ingrained into our daily life, making them extremely difficult to shake, and expecting yourself to do so overnight will only lead to disappointment.
However, if you approach behavior change in the correct way, you’ll greatly increase your chances of success. With each change you make, you need to set goals. And not just any goals – these goals need to be SMART.
This means that each of your goals is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Sensitive. Keep this concept in mind for all of your lifestyle changes and you’ll be on the road to optimal health in no time.
Now let’s get into the specific lifestyle changes that should be made.
Quit Smoking and Reduce Drinking
Simply put, if you’re a smoker, it’s time to quit. Smoking is absolutely horrendous for your health and one of the most dangerous habits you can have.
If you don’t believe it, listen to the more than 16 million Americans who are living with a disease caused by smoking.
Smoking causes cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, just to name a few. And the risk isn’t only to you – secondhand smoke causes the exact same side effects in those who inhale it.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a smoking cessation program if you need it.
Though alcohol isn’t as damaging as smoking (in moderation), it should still be monitored if clogged arteries are a concern. This is because alcohol can increase your cholesterol levels, worsening the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
Get More Movement
If your daily routine is similar to that of the majority of American adults, you need more movement in your life. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down to watch a movie or play a game now and then, but a sedentary lifestyle can be deadly.
The CDC and other health organizations recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week for good health. But rather than putting an emphasis on exercise, we’re putting it on general movement.
Because while structured physical activity is excellent for your health, some movement is always better than none. Go for a walk after dinner, park further from the grocery store, tackle a cleaning project in your house every day.
Start small and work your way up, there’s no reason to force yourself into going to the gym for an hour a day right away, if ever.
If you can, build a support system to make the transition smoother. Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to find like-minded people with similar goals.
Eat a Nutrient-Rich Diet
Exercise is one pillar of health and standing next to it, equally as important, is your diet. What you use to fuel your body has an effect on every aspect of your health, including that of your arteries.
The majority of American adults eat a diet loaded with unhealthy fats and far too much sugar and additives. So if this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Even still, this is no excuse for neglecting your health.
Ignore all the fad diets and superfood trends that you see. These aren’t sustainable and won’t give you the results you’re looking for.
Instead, focus on eating a diverse, nutrient-rich diet. This means fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats and carbs.
That said, there are certain foods that are particularly helpful in boosting cardiovascular health. These include:
- Berries (all varieties)
- Whole grains
- Fatty fish
Remember – everything in moderation. Should you include salmon in your diet? Yes. Should you eat salmon every single day? No.
Likewise, while keeping your consumption of junk food under control is essential, you shouldn’t cut your favorite treats out of your diet completely. Have a piece of cake now and then, then get back to your strawberries and spinach.
Take Steps to Reduce Stress
You might be thinking, “what does stress have to do with my arteries?” Well, believe it or not, the two are closely connected.
Chronic stress wreaks havoc on your body, both mentally and physically. And one of the side effects of high stress is clogged arteries. This is because stress causes high blood pressure, and high blood pressure causes plaque build-up in the arteries.
Reducing your stress levels is easier said than done, but not impossible. The trick is to find what works best for you and use it whenever you need to.
Increasing your physical activity and improving your diet will take you part of the way, but you’ll likely need to take additional steps as well. This might be starting a gratitude journal, practicing deep breathing techniques, drawing a hot bath, or spending time outdoors.
Whatever makes you feel centered and helps you to decompress is the right choice for you – as long as it doesn’t involve smoking or drinking!
Keep Diabetes Under Control
This doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you’re diabetic, you have to be extra careful with your arterial health. Due to the increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetics are far more likely to develop heart disease.
In addition to monitoring your insulin levels, you need to protect your heart health by keeping your blood sugar levels under control. This can be done through a healthy diet and diabetes medications.
The aforementioned lifestyle changes still stand, even if you’re diabetic. However, it’s important to consult your doctor before making any alterations to your lifestyle to ensure that you don’t exacerbate your condition by doing so.
Your doctor will be able to give you specific medications and diet recommendations that will keep your diabetes under control while protecting the health of your arteries.
Medications and Specialist Procedures
Though the best way to unclog arteries is through the holistic means listed above, if your blockage is severe, you might need a specialist procedure as well to clear it. In addition, if you’re suffering from another condition that’s contributing to your blocked arteries, medication can be prescribed to aid in your body’s efforts.
Keep in mind that even if your doctor prescribes medications or more invasive procedures, the applicable lifestyle changes should still be made.
The medications you’re prescribed will vary depending on the comorbidity, or combination of conditions, you’re dealing with.
For example, those with high cholesterol might be prescribed statins, while those with high blood pressure would be given beta-blockers.
Anticoagulants and antiplatelets are sometimes used as well to prevent complications from clogged arteries such as blood clots.
Those with a life-threatening blockage will need to undergo a specialist procedure. This is when a surgeon locates the blockage within the artery and removes it manually.
Small blockages can be removed via a catheter, which is a minimally invasive procedure. Other techniques to achieve clean arteries include balloon angioplasty, laser angioplasty, atherectomy, and stent placement.
Larger or harder-to-reach blockages sometimes require bypass surgery to resolve. This is major surgery and involves removing the damaged or blocked area and transplanting a healthy vessel from another part of the body in its place.
Whether you’re able to unclog your arteries through holistic means alone or receive medical assistance to help your body along, treatment shouldn’t stop with a clean bill of health. Recurrence is common, especially in those who abandon their lifestyle changes once the blockage is cleared.
Remember that health isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. And this journey doesn’t end, it continues on throughout the entire span of our lives.
Even when your doctor declares that you have clean arteries, you need to continue your efforts. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoidance of harmful habits is the key to maintaining your clean arteries and other aspects of good health.
Prevent Clogged Arteries to Maintain Your Quality of Life and Health
Experiencing clogged arteries can be a dangerous, even life-threatening, event. Because of this, it’s vital to do everything we can to keep our bodies in top shape and prevent such an occurrence.
There’s no secret behind reaching and maintaining good health, it’s all about caring for yourself, body and mind.
Prioritizing your mental and physical health through diet, exercise, and mindfulness takes diligence. But by doing so, you’ll maintain a high quality of life and health well into your later years.
Interested in learning more about maintaining optimal health all throughout your life? Take a look at our blog for articles on all things health and fitness.