Due to the fact that arterial diseases rarely present symptoms (unless the disease in question is already in an advanced state), it can be difficult to accurately detect their presence of on the basis of the more ‘general’ symptoms (that can be attributed to other medical conditions) without resorting to other diagnostic methods and tools.
There are however well-researched risk factors and individuals can generally determine if any of these factors apply to them. Let’s first take a look at the general risk factors (modifiable and non-modifiable) for atherosclerosis.
Risk factors for atherosclerosis
- Advanced age. The older you get, the greater the risk of atherosclerosis. In men, the risk increases after 45, while in women this is after 55 .
- Male gender. More males die from atherosclerosis and associated CAD than women .
- Family history. Studies have shown that individuals with a family history of atherosclerosis and CAD have a statistically more significant chance of being affected by either during their lifetime .
- Genetic abnormality. There is strong evidence that genetics (other than family history) play an important role in susceptibility to atherosclerosis and CAD, but further studies are necessary in order to conclude a relationship between genetics, atherosclerosis and CAD .
- Diabetes. Atherosclerosis is worsened by both type 1 and type 2 diabetes .
- Tobacco smoking. A study has shown that cigarette smoking was associated with a 50 % increase in the progression of atherosclerosis (in comparison with those who never smoked) over a 3-year period .
- Consumption of trans fat. Trans fat (in margarine and many processed foods) has been linked to an increase in CAD-related mortality .
- Dyslipidaemia. Abnormal levels of cholesterol and other lipids (fats) are associated with aggravation of atherosclerosis .
- Abdominal obesity. Besides being often connected with dyslipidaemia and consumption of trans fat, it is a risk factor for both atherosclerosis and carotid artery disease .
Now that we are familiar with the generally established atherosclerosis risk factors, we can take a look at the common symptoms and warning signs of blocked arteries (one of complications of atherosclerosis). They are usually intimately associated with risk factors, but can present themselves even in otherwise (supposedly) healthy individuals that are not recognized to be at risk on the basis of risk factors.
Common symptoms of blocked arteries
- Shortness of breath. Caused by clogged/damaged coronary arteries (possible CAD) and the heart’s resultant inability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
- Fatigue and dizziness. Likewise connected with CAD and less oxygen in the blood. Usually more pronounced in women.
- Chest pain (angina). One of the most common symptoms of CAD.
- Lower back pain. Some studies have found evidence of link between lower back pain and possible atherosclerosis .
- Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA). A brief episode of neurological dysfunction caused by a temporary loss of blood flow to the brain, spinal cord or retina, but without tissue death. It usually manifests as a temporary loss of vision (or double vision), one-sided facial droop and motor weakness and problems with balance and orientation. This is the most typical warning sign of carotid artery disease, which may followed by severe permanent strokes and even death.
- Pain in the legs/feet. This may very well be due to physical exertion, but can also be a symptom of PAD, especially if it’s persistent and worsens during walking and exercising (this is called intermittent claudication).
Of those symptoms the most telling is intermittent claudication and its association with PAD, because the absence or presence and severity of PAD is strongly indicative of overall cardiovascular health .