HEART / ARTERY HEALTH, & ATHEROSCLEROSIS FOR DUMMIES PART II: SIGNS OF ARTERY CLOGGING (AKA ATHEROSCLEROSIS)

Vintage American Heart Association Poster Circa 1970s

July 20th, 2019

By Natan Schleider, M.D.

As our arteries clog with cholesterol and get occluded by thick unhealthy walls for high blood pressure, smoking, and other risk factors, most of us feel nothing. Then things hit a tipping point–that is, the arteries which bring oxygen rich blood to our organs and muscles become so narrow that the following examples can happen often quite suddenly:

  • A stroke occurs in our brain resulting in paralysis or weakness or difficulty speaking or seeing (depends on which artery of the brain has stopped feeding the part of the brain responsible for our movements, thoughts, vision, etc)
  • Our hearts suffer damage which patients describe as chest pain/pressure OR can loose so much blood flow so quickly it stops pumping and the patient dies in what is called Sudden Cardiac Death
  • The arteries that feed our kidneys (an organ that requires almost as much oxygen-rich blood as the brain and heart’) clog and the patient suffers leg swelling, electrolyte problems, and ultimately kidney failure
  • The arteries in our legs get clogged resulting in pain or fatigue in the legs with exertion, often relieved by rest

What I want to emphasize is that while atherosclerotic disease can kill quickly and suddenly, it can also leave the patient severely disabled and in pain so if your attitude is: ‘Well, I’ll just enjoy my greasy cheeseburgers ’cause I gotta live and then I’ll keel over and die painlessly,’ you may want to think again.

An excellent example of this is one major risk factor for artery clogging caused hypertension or high blood pressure, know as the “Silent Killer.’ Most of the time people do NOT feel their high blood pressure and it only causes death or serious non-reversible damage. How? High blood pressure causes artery walls to become thick and really stiff. As the walls thicken, less blood flow occurs until, you got it, the lumen of the artery is too small to provide oxygenated blood.

So there are some basic (rather over-simplified) warning signs on atherosclerotic disease.

In Part III we will looks at more specific risk factors for artery clogging.

Thanks for reading!

Natan Schleider, M.D.