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Signs You Have "Fatty Deposits" in Your Arteries

Warning signs of atherosclerosis, according to doctors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Atherosclerosis is a condition caused by buildup of fat and other substances in the arteries, leading them to harden and narrow. "It can progress for decades before you have symptoms like chest discomfort or shortness of breath," explains Dr. Ron Blankstein, a cardiovascular imaging specialist and preventive cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. Here are five signs you have fatty deposits in your arteries, 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.


Shortness of Breath

Asian young woman feeling discomfort as suffering from heartburn holding chest with closed eyes and sitting with folded legs on couch at home.

Shortness of breath could be a sign of clogged arteries. "Patients often do not interpret shortness of breath as a serious symptom, but particularly in patients who have cardiac risk factors and in patients without lung disease, it may be the only sign of the presence of serious coronary artery disease that may need treatment," says Daniel Berman, MD, Director of Cardiac Imaging at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "If we can identify patients with coronary disease before an event occurs, then the vast majority of the cardiac events could be prevented by modern therapies."


Chest Pain

Woman suffering from chest pain

Chest pain could be a symptom of atherosclerosis, doctors say. "It is an extremely common symptom of coronary artery disease, which is caused by cholesterol-clogged coronary arteries," says Harvard Health. "This is the network of arteries that nourish the heart muscle."


Erectile Dysfunction

Sad man sitting on a bed, girlfriend in the background.

Blocked arteries can lead to erectile dysfunction. "ED is a common phenomenon among men who have coronary heart disease," according to Johns Hopkins cardiologist Michael J. Blaha, M.D., MPH, director of clinical research at the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. "Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart and impairing the functioning of blood vessels. Healthy blood flow is also necessary for erectile function. In addition, some medications to treat high blood pressure can contribute to ED."


Pain While Walking

Tired senior woman after jogging. Tired senior woman resting after running outdoors. African female runner standing with hands on knees. Fitness sport woman resting after intensive evening run

Pain in the hips or legs while walking could be a sign of a blocked artery. "Much like blockages in the heart arteries can cause heart attacks, blockages in the leg arteries can cause pain when walking," says Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. "When you stop walking, you don't need that much oxygen and the pain goes away."


Trouble Breathing

portrait of a senior man exercising and running outdoors having cardio problems chest pain

"It's easy to ignore breathlessness as a sign that we're simply getting old or unfit," says Peter Leslie Weissberg, CBE, FRCP, FMedSci. "When you do moderate-intensity exercise like cycling or brisk walking, it's normal to breathe a bit harder – although you should still be able to speak. But feeling out of breath while doing everyday activities, especially if you haven't experienced this before, could be a sign of a potentially serious heart condition. Common, treatable heart conditions such as coronary heart disease (the cause of heart attacks), heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation can all cause breathlessness."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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