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Clogged Arteries

Clogged arteries can be treated surgically and non-surgically.

Foods high in cholesterol and fat contribute to clogged arteries. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Foods high in cholesterol and fat contribute to clogged arteries.

Clogged Arteries

Clogged arteries, also known as coronary artery disease, occur when arteries delivering blood and oxygen to the heart become clogged with plaque, which is a build-up of fat or cholesterol. When blood and oxygen have difficulty flowing through the heart, it can lead to chest pain and possibly a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, 445,000 Americans died from coronary heart disease in 2005, and each year about 1.26 million Americans will have their first or recurrent heart attack.

Nonsurgical Methods of Treating Clogged Arteries

Lifestyle changes and diet can go a long way to prevent or treat clogged arteries. To ensure maximum blood flow through the arteries, people should quit smoking, reduce stress and practice muscle relaxation, drink in moderation and eat healthy foods.

People should eat fruits and vegetables high in fiber and vitamins, unrefined whole grains, and omega-3 fats found in fish, olive oil and nuts. People should avoid highly processed food, and food high in salt, cholesterol and fat, especially trans fat, saturated fat and hydrogenated oil.

Exercise is important as it helps maintain a healthy weight and keeps cholesterol and high blood pressure in check. Those at high risk for clogged arteries should control high cholesterol and diabetes with medication or through diet. Their LDL cholesterol level should be 100 or below.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a combination of lifestyle and diet can help prevent arteries from clogging and can slow the progression of already developed coronary artery disease.

Several drugs and medications can treat clogged arteries. Common aspirin thins blood and helps prevent it from clotting in the arteries. Beta blockers decrease blood pressure. Cholesterol drugs decrease the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors also decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Calcium channel blockers relax the muscles around coronary arteries and help the vessels open to allow increased blood flow.

Surgical Options for Clogged Arteries

Bypass surgery improves blood flow to the heart by rerouting blood around the clogged portion of the artery. During bypass surgery, a section of blood vessel is removed from the patient's leg, chest or wrist and attached to the heart near the location of the clogged artery. Blood is able to bypass the clogged artery and pass through the new artery. The new artery may also become clogged over time. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, this can happen in more than 10 percent of bypass surgeries after 10 or more years.

Another surgical option is angioplasty, also known as percutaneous coronary intervention. In angioplasty, a tiny balloon is inserted into a major blood vessel in the arm or groin and pushed up into the arteries of the heart. The balloon is inflated in order to open the heart's passageways. Insertion of a stent often accompanies angioplasty, which is a small metal coil that's inserted into the opened artery to prop it open, give it stability and prevent the artery from closing again. Angioplasty and insertion of a stent can reduce chest pain and shortness of breath and may prevent a heart attack.

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