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Clogged Arteries Can be a "Ticking Time Bomb," Says Doctor. Here's How to Stay Clean.

Learn the signs of clogged arteries and what to know about the condition. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States and the statistics are alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "One person dies every 34 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. About 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2020—that's 1 in every 5 deaths. In addition, coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing 382,820 people in 2020," which is what clogged arteries is considered. The British Heart Foundation says, "Blocked arteries, also known as Atherosclerosis, is the build-up of fibrous and fatty material inside the arteries and is the underlying condition that causes coronary heart disease and other circulatory diseases."

While heart disease affects a large amount of the population, it is avoidable in many cases with healthy lifestyle choices. The American Heart Association states, "An estimated 80% of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, are preventable. However, cardiovascular disease remains the No. 1 killer and the most expensive disease, costing nearly $1 billion a day. While cardiovascular disease is largely preventable, it tops the disease burden list and this situation is expected to worsen according to recent projections showing that by 2035, 45% of the U.S. adult population will live with cardiovascular disease at an annual cost of more than $1 trillion."

So what exactly is coronary heart disease? The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains Coronary heart disease is often referred to simply as "heart disease," although it's not the only type of heart disease. Another term for it is coronary artery disease. Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque (a combination of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood) builds up in your arteries. You may have heard this called clogged arteries or atherosclerosis. The plaque reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood getting to your heart, which can cause chest pain (also called angina). Plaque can also lead to blood clots, which block blood flow and are the most common cause of a heart attack." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why Clogged Arteries are a Common Health Issue

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Neal Patel, DO – family medicine specialist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, Calif tells us, "They are very common mainly due to our diet and decrease in physical activity. Clogged arteries are due to plaque build up in our body's arteries. They do not occur overnight and are an accumulative effect throughout one's life. They are very common nowadays since a lot of our foods eaten are processed foods and contain many unhealthy ingredients. 

Although the consensus is that high cholesterol foods/fatty foods/fried foods, red meats are the main culprit, many studies now show how high fructose corn syrup along with diabetes is a major cause of all of these underlying diseases as well. Diabetes is a pandemic, however due to it being so common, it has become normalized, and this is very concerning for the psychology of what a healthy body and person should look like."  


Risk Factors

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

Dr. Patel says, "Those who have a family history of coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes are at increased risk since they already have a predisposing factor that puts themselves at a higher risk of also developing such diseases. Just think of how history repeats itself. Those who live a sedentary lifestyle along with those who eat highly processed foods are at increased risk of developing clogged arteries because the body is not able to properly manage and remove such foods/toxins naturally from the body.

The Cleveland Clinic says, "There are many risk factors for coronary artery disease. Some you can't control. Others you may be able to control by making lifestyle changes or taking medications. Talk with your provider about the risk factors listed below and how you can manage them.

Risk factors you can't control (non-modifiable risk factors)

–Age: As you get older, your risk for CAD goes up. Men and people AMAB face a higher risk after age 45. Women and people AFAB face a higher risk after age 55.

–Family history: You have a higher risk if your biological family members have heart disease. It's especially important to learn if they have premature heart disease. This means they were diagnosed at a young age (father or brother before age 55, mother or sister before age 65).

Lifestyle factors that raise your risk

–Diet high in saturated fat or refined carbohydrates.

–Lack of physical activity.

–Sleep deprivation.

–Smoking, vaping or other tobacco use. 


Clogged Arteries are Dangerous if Not Treated

Woman is clutching her chest

According to Dr. Patel, "Clogged arteries are similar to a ticking time bomb. As mentioned, they can take years to develop but once they clog an artery to a point where there is a lack of blood flow or complete blockage, this can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. It is possible to go through life with some clogging of arteries without any major concerns, however, in general these are very worrisome illnesses and can be difficult to recover from. They can also be very costly for patients and their families."

The Cleveland Clinic states, "The main complication of coronary artery disease is a heart attack. This is a medical emergency that can be fatal. Your heart muscle starts to die because it's not receiving enough blood. You need prompt medical attention to restore blood flow to your heart and save your life.

Over the years, CAD can also weaken your heart and lead to complications, including:

–Arrhythmias (like atrial fibrillation).

–Cardiac arrest.

–Cardiogenic shock.

–Heart failure."


You Can Unclog Arteries Naturally

Close-up of pretty young woman drinking water from glass

Dr. Patel explains, "One way of unblocking them naturally is by using certain supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids and fish oil. Certain foods high in antioxidants can help prevent inflammation but may not prevent plaque build up or reversing the clogged arteries. Another great way is intermittent fasting where a person is to only drink water, green/black tea without sugar, or black coffee without sugar or creamer. 

Just how one may do a "spring cleaning" of their closet, fasting for a prolonged period of time (1-3 days) can be a cleaning for the body and can reduce whole body inflammation. It is important to mention that fasting and fish oil or omega 3 fatty acids may not make clogged arteries completely disappear but rather can help prevent further build up. Cholesterol medications, mainly "statins" have also been known to help stabilize the plaque build up that does occur in the arteries."


Signs of Clogged Arteries

Woman suffering from chest pain indoor

Dr. Patel states, "Most people don't usually "feel" their clogged arteries until they have reached a significant amount of blockage. Since the most concerning clogged arteries occur in the heart, it can feel like chest tightness/pain/pressure, like an "elephant is sitting on your chest," or shortness of breath with activities. Some may also exhibit jaw pain/numbness/tingling of the arm when doing activities which indicate a decrease in blood flow. 

Think of the rules of supply and demand. When a person is physically active, they demand a higher supply of blood flow, however since the arteries are clogged, the heart is unable to provide this supply. Therefore, there is a lack of oxygen to the necessary tissues and lead to more significant illnesses like a heart attack or stroke."


Why Clogged Arteries Can Happen Later in Life for Women

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Dr. Patel says, "This tends to happen later in life for women because of menopause. There are many studies showing how menstruating women and the hormones, estrogen and progesterone have many protective effects on a woman's body such as preserving bone density, reducing risks of thyroid issues and heart disease/ clogged arteries. Once a woman is menopausal, these protective effects go away and women become at increased risk of osteoporosis, clogged arteries, hypothyroidism, etc. 

The risk of clogged arteries will increase in the younger population as our rates of diabetes increase. There is a major concern of obesity rates amongst US children which will impact their overall life expectancy and quality of life. This new generation of children is the first generation that is expected to have a lower life expectancy than its previous generation. This is very concerning and will impact the healthcare system tremendously in the upcoming years as we try not only to treat the chronic comorbidities of our rapidly growing geriatric population, but also as we begin to see the rise of such chronic diseases occur earlier in our children and young adult population."  

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather