Clogged Arteries: What Causes Them and Why They are Dangerous

Understand clogged arteries causes can help prevent dangerous health events.

Do you often feel tired and out of breath for no particular reason? Do your arms and legs start to ache or swell up with minimal exercise? If so, it could be a sign that the vessels responsible for circulating blood from the heart to the body may be obstructed. This condition is commonly referred to as clogged arteries. Ignoring such signs can lead to serious health consequences like stroke, difficulty breathing, and even death. Understanding common clogged arteries causes, signs, and ways to prevent them can be an important step toward safeguarding your health. Explore the issues associated with clogged arteries and discover new ways to manage them effectively with Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

What Is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is the medical term for arteries that have become thick, stiff, and narrowed over time due to a buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits, also referred to as plaque. The danger behind atherosclerosis is restricted blood flow throughout the body and the potential for blood clots. While many think of clogged arteries as a problem that occurs only in the heart, the truth is that atherosclerosis can occur anywhere in the body, including the extremities, with a condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD).

What Is Carotid Artery Disease?

Carotid artery disease is a condition in which the major arteries in your neck that supply blood to the brain, face, and scalp (carotid arteries) become narrowed or blocked due to atherosclerosis, when plaque builds up in the arteries. 

Over time, this plaque can harden and narrow the arteries, reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. If a piece of this plaque breaks off, it can travel to the smaller arteries in the brain and cause a blockage, leading to a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.

PAD is one of many clogged arteries causes

What Is PAD?

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a medical condition caused by fatty deposit buildup in the arteries outside of the heart, leading to inadequate blood flow. This condition can also cause symptoms such as pain during movement. It can be mistaken for normal signs of aging due to its subtle development and often goes undetected until it has progressed significantly. Since PAD is a result of plaque buildup and artery hardening, this condition carries significant health risks if left untreated. These risks include potential limb loss and deadly cardiovascular events like stroke or heart attack. 

Other causes of PAD may include vessel inflammation from injury, abnormal anatomy structures near vessels, or elevated risk factors unique to an individual’s lifestyle. Early diagnosis is essential for successful treatment that could save lives from the grave complications associated with peripheral arterial disease.

Those who live with PAD may not realize that they have the disease until severe complications present themselves. However, knowing what to look for may help you identify these conditions to seek care sooner. 

The following two complications can occur in the advanced stages of PAD.


This is a common yet debilitating condition that manifests as pain in the legs during physical activity. In its most severe cases, this discomfort can persist throughout rest periods and may manifest with additional symptoms such as numbness, weakness, and cold sensations in the lower extremities.

Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI)

CLI is a severe form of PAD that can cause worsening wounds and infections in the extremities, resulting in gangrene or tissue death. Without adequate treatment, sufferers could require amputation. However, with timely and effective treatment, amputation can be avoided. This is why it is essential for those with CLI to have their condition diagnosed as soon as possible. 

Pain in the calves is a sign of clogged arteries and their causes

Signs of Clogged Arteries

There are several conditions associated with clogged arteries that can affect different parts and processes of the body. The following signs could indicate health issues related to clogged arteries:

  • Dizziness, feelings of lightheadedness
  • Fatigue or difficulty performing physical activities
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms or legs
  • Pain or cramping in the calves, thighs, hips, and buttocks
  • Pain in the arms, head, neck, jaw, ear lobes, or upper back
  • Cold sensations in the lower extremities
  • Vision loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Heart palpitations (strong, fast, or irregular heartbeat)
  • Skin discoloration (pale or blueish in appearance)
    • This may also be associated with dry, cracked skin
  • Slowed healing in the lower extremities
  • Severe chest pain or pressure

If you experience any of these symptoms, especially in combination, do not ignore them. Seek care from a cardiologist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

What Common Clogged Arteries Causes?

There are many factors that can contribute to the weakening of the arteries and the increase of fat and cholesterol deposits. Conditions commonly associated with cardiovascular stress are, unsurprisingly, also typical sources behind plaque buildup, or atherosclerosis. Any of the following conditions can increase a patient’s risk of developing atherosclerosis.

What Are the Complications Associated With Clogged Arteries?

Leaving any health problem unaddressed and unmanaged can be hazardous. This is especially true when it comes to clogged arteries. While a cardiologist can help mitigate risk from atherosclerosis through medications or recommended lifestyle changes, failing to follow these directions can have detrimental results, including heart attack or stroke—and in the case of PAD, possible limb amputation.

When Should You Worry About Clogged Arteries and Their Causes?

Everyone should be mindful of the complications of clogged arteries and their causes, particularly those suffering from an associated health condition such as those listed above. In addition to these, possible signs of atherosclerosis can include angina (chest pain or pressure), numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, or arrhythmia, among several others. If you suffer from any of these, contact your physician immediately.

If you believe you may be suffering from atherosclerosis or have any of the associated health concerns, contact Cardiovascular Institute of the South and request an appointment with any one of our highly-skilled cardiologists today.


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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff