Atherosclerosis is a serious condition where plaque made of cholesterol and fat builds up in and around the artery walls. “We usually think of HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol as somewhat protective for our hearts and blood vessels because it absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver,” says Kate Kirley, MD. “We tend to think of LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, as the main type of cholesterol that we focus on as a potentially harmful cholesterol for our hearts because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels.” Here are five signs your arteries are unhealthy, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Indigestion could be a sign of blocked arteries. “Indigestion, or the feeling of a burning sensation in the chest, can often be mistaken as a symptom of acid reflux or a digestive problem,” says cardiothoracic surgeon Stephen L. Noble, MD. “However, this sensation can often be a sign of heart disease or a heart attack in women. Heartburn often occurs after a meal and can be relieved by antacids. If the feeling persists after taking antacid medications, this may be symptomatic of a heart attack, especially in women. One theory for such pain is related to inadequate blood flow due to atherosclerosis, which makes the heart work extra hard while eating.”
Chest pain is a common sign of high cholesterol, doctors warn. “Artery blockages are not created equal. Treatment of an artery that is 97% blocked is much easier than treating one that has been 100% blocked for a long time,” says Dharam Kumbhani, MD. “The symptoms – chest pain, tightness and shortness of breath – can be similar, though. Sometimes, when arteries become completely blocked, a new blood supply develops around the blockage. This new blood supply, called collaterals, won’t deliver as much blood to your heart. This can lead to those same symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath.”
People with blocked arteries often experience intense fatigue. “People can experience fatigue because of heart failure induced by clogged arteries,” says Dr. Noble. “Along with labored breathing, this is yet another major symptom of heart disease in women. If the heart is unable to get enough oxygen to perform its function, the heart will begin to work harder. This added workload of the heart can lead to excessive tiredness.”
“High cholesterol and high blood pressure tend to run together,” says Dr. Kirley. “One doesn’t necessarily cause the other, but it’s very common to see both in an individual. And certainly, both of them contribute to raising somebody’s risk for heart attack and stroke. The interventions to help—things like more physical activity and nutrition—can impact both your blood pressure and your cholesterol.”
ED could be a sign of blocked arteries, doctors say. “Erectile dysfunction is often a symptom of coronary artery disease in men,” says Dr. Noble. “Just as the process of atherosclerosis has been previously discussed to occur in the small arteries that feed the heart, this process can occur in the small arteries of the penis. Normal erectile function is supported by healthy blood flow into and out of the penis. When the flow of blood into the penis is compromised, this leads to erectile dysfunction.”