Arteries are a type of blood vessel. They carry oxygenated blood to various organs of the body. If cholesterol builds up in the blood, it can attach to the walls of the arteries. The arteries can become partially or fully blocked. This condition is sometimes called hardening of the arteries and can cause a variety of serious health problems.
Because arteries are located throughout the body, the symptoms and possible dangers depend on what artery is blocked. For example, one of the most common areas a blocked artery occurs is in the coronary artery. If the coronary artery is blocked and blood flow is restricted to parts of the heart, various symptoms may occur, including chest pain, increased heart rate and shortness of breath.
If the blockage becomes severe enough, blood flow to part of the heart may be cut off completely and damage to the heart muscle occurs. This is commonly called a heart attack. The amount of damage to the heart muscle will vary depending on the extent of the blockage.
A diagnosis may be made by undergoing a cardiac catheterization. This procedure allows a physician to view the arteries and check for blockages. Treatment may include a procedure to open the blocked artery, which is called angioplasty or cardiac bypass surgery.
Arteries located in other parts of the body, such as the carotid artery in the neck, can also become blocked. When the carotid artery becomes blocked, blood flow to the brain can be interrupted. This can cause a stroke, which may result in temporary or permanent damage to the brain. Although the type of damage depends on what area of the brain is affected, common symptoms of a stroke include weakness, trouble speaking, headache and confusion.
Blockages may also occur in the renal arteries, which supply blood to the kidneys. This can cause symptoms, such as high blood pressure and possibly kidney failure. If the femoral artery, which supplies blood to the leg, becomes blocked it may result in pain and weakness in the leg. Additional symptoms may include numbness and sores may develop on the foot.
Since a blocked artery can be so dangerous, prevention is essential. Risk factors for developing a blocked artery include, having high LDL cholesterol levels and low levels of HDL cholesterol. Additional risks include being overweight and smoking. To reduce your chances of developing a blocked artery, eat foods low in saturated fat, exercise regularly, quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight and have your cholesterol checked at least once a year.