A heart attack can sometimes sneak up on you without warning. Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is one condition that may lead to a heart attack. This disease occurs when damage to the inner layer of arteries is caused by conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or inflammation. When this happens, fatty deposits can build up at the site of injury, narrowing the passageway and blocking the delivery of oxygen to organs. If these deposits, called plaques, break away and travel through the bloodstream, they can cause a heart attack or stroke. Mild atherosclerosis is often symptomless. However, once arteries become blocked and organs are deprived of oxygen, you may notice symptoms.
Difficulty breathing or becoming winded while performing mild tasks may be a sign that your heart is having to work harder than usual. Clogged or hardened arteries block blood flow and cause a strain on your heart. If you notice that activities that used to be simple are suddenly leaving you short of breath, you may be suffering from atherosclerosis. Risk factors for atherosclerosis include diabetes, obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise. Many of these risk factors also can contribute to shortness of breath.
ack pain and degenerative conditions of the spine can be linked to atherosclerosis. If blood flow is blocked to the arteries of the lower back lumbar region, you may experience back pain. Studies suggest that decreased blood flow to this region and the lower spine can lead to lower back pain and to disc degeneration. The discs between the vertebrae of your spinal column work as shock absorbers. Degenerative disc disease is a condition in which the discs of the spinal column suffer wear and tear. Decreased blood supply to this area can contribute to irreparable damage to the discs.
When the arteries near your heart become clogged, they may cause pain or a tightening in your chest. The muscles of your heart need oxygen just as any other muscles do. When the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen, this can cause chest pain, a feeling of pressure in the chest, or a sensation of squeezing in the chest. Angina, or chest pain due to a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle, is a sign of underlying heart disease. If you experience chest pain, visit your doctor in order to determine the cause. In some cases, you may need emergency medical treatment in order to prevent a heart attack.
Decreased oxygen supply to your calf muscles can cause pain when walking or exercising. Atherosclerosis can lead to a condition in your legs called peripheral artery disease. One symptom of peripheral artery disease is pain that flares up when walking but then is relieved when at rest. Other symptoms of peripheral artery disease include sores on your feet or legs that don’t heal, a change in skin color of the legs, and a weak pulse in your legs or feet. If you experience leg pain or cramping, make an appointment to see your doctor to rule out atherosclerosis and peripheral artery disease.
Blocked arteries can also cause numbness or weakness in your arms or legs. Numbness in the legs can be another symptom of peripheral artery disease caused by atherosclerosis. Numbness, or decreased sensation in your hands and feet, can also lead to an inability to sense heat or cold. This can increase your risk of suffering from burns when performing daily tasks. It can also increase your risk of frostbite in freezing temperatures. While rare, decreased circulation in your limbs could also lead to tissue death known as gangrene.
Decreased blood supply to your hands and feet due to atherosclerosis can also cause them to feel cold, unrelated to the temperature of the room. If you notice that your hands or feet are suddenly cold or turn blue despite warm temperatures, you may be suffering from a lack of circulation to these areas. If you notice one foot is cold while the other remains warm, you may have a blocked artery in that leg. Visit your doctor if you notice symptoms of poor circulation.
High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood rushing through your arteries is persistently higher than the normal pressure of 120/80. Many individuals aren’t even aware they suffer from high blood pressure. Therefore, the best way to monitor for this condition is to have your blood pressure checked. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries, leading to atherosclerosis. This, in turn, can trigger a heart attack or stroke. Symptoms of a heart attack may include chest pain, pain in the upper body, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, and developing a cold sweat.
When atherosclerosis affects the blood vessels of the kidney, it is known as renal artery stenosis. If your kidney does not receive the necessary blood supply, it is unable to perform the necessary functions of filtering waste and removing fluids from your body. Symptoms of renal artery disease include high blood pressure, swelling, and shortness of breath. However, renal artery disease often displays no symptoms. Therefore, it is important to visit your doctor for regular checkups and blood tests that can alert you to signs of kidney disease.
Decreased blood flow to the pelvic region linked to atherosclerosis can cause erectile dysfunction as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is believed that an abnormal lining of blood vessels can cause decreased blood flow to the heart and to the penis. This contributes to the development of atherosclerosis, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Symptoms of stroke include sudden numbness on one side of the body, confusion, slurred speech, difficulty walking, and difficulty seeing. The American Stroke Association uses the acronym FAST to catch symptoms of stroke: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911.