Can detect clogged arteries on an echocardiogram

Atherosclerosis - how do you recognize blocked arteries?

By Laura Pomer | March 8, 2021, 5:23 p.m.

Atherosclerosis (also known as "hardening of the arteries") is the technical term when deposits in the arteries obstruct the blood flow. It is usually a gradual process that, in the worst case, can lead to a complete interruption of the blood flow. The possible consequences include a life-threatening heart attack. FITBOOK explains how to recognize clogged arteries and how to prevent the diagnosis.

Arteries are arteries that carry “fresh”, oxygenated blood away from the heart. This blood has the task of supplying the organs and tissues in the body with nutrients and oxygen and thereby making them functional. Atherosclerosis is a disease of these important blood vessels. It affects the blood flow - sometimes massively.

FITBOOK has with Prof. Dr. Norbert Stefan, internist, endocrinologist, diabetologist and holder of the Heisenberg Professorship for Clinical-Experimental Diabetology at the University Hospital Tübingen. The expert explained to us in more detail what arteriosclerosis is, how to recognize the disease and how to prevent it in the best possible way.

Atherosclerosis - what is behind the deposits?

Doctors also speak of plaque when it comes to buildup in the arteries. This means hardening within the artery. They can for example consist of blood clots, blood lipids or also lime (= deposits of calcium).

Who is particularly at risk of getting sick?

Most elderly people are affected by arteriosclerosis. The disease affects men more often. Incidentally, it is the most common cause of impotence. Women are usually only at risk after the menopause (and the associated hormonal changes).

Predisposed Risk Factors

According to Professor Stefan, it is assumed that, among other things, People whose family environment had heart attacks or strokes early on belong to the risk group. Likewise, patients who have already had a corresponding event themselves.

In addition to physical illnesses such as rheumatism, psychological stresses such as anxiety disorders and depression are also suspected of increasing the risk of arteriosclerosis.

Also interesting: Sexually active women go through menopause later

Lifestyle risks

But lifestyle also plays a role. Smokers, for example, use tobacco smoke to create deposits in their arteries. Doctors also take a critical view of a diet that is very high in fat and calories. According to Professor Stefan, factors that are often associated with obesity (such as excessive weight in the abdomen, fatty liver, diabetes, persistent high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels) are among the risk factors.

How do you know if arteries are blocked?

Depending on which or how many areas in the body are affected by arteriosclerosis, the symptoms can vary. Clogged coronary arteries often cause the patient to feel pressure and tightness in the chest area. Within the kidneys, blocked arteries affect kidney function. Those affected recognize this, among other things. foamy urine, water retention in the legs, and high blood pressure.

Disturbances and failures of functions of the nervous system can also be traced back to arteriosclerosis. Blockages of the carotid artery are often the trigger.

Also interesting: Which symptoms indicate high blood pressure?

"Intermittent claudication" due to atherosclerosis

According to Professor Stefan, symptoms of the so-called “intermittent claudication” are a very important indication that arterial deposits could be present in the cervical, heart and cerebral vessels. In technical terminology, it is known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

Due to narrowed or completely closed arteries, which are supposed to supply the legs with blood, there may be discomforts when walking, and sometimes stress-independent pain in the legs may occur. This can mean that those affected have to repeatedly take breaks while walking. Doctors refer to this sign of so-called “intermittent claudication” as “intermittent limping”.

Sometimes the blood circulation is so badly disturbed that limbs or parts of them have to be amputated.

Possible consequences of atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a serious finding. As the disease progresses, deposits can combine to form a blood clot (thrombus) and no longer “only” disrupt the blood flow, but no longer allow blood to pass through. This can cause a heart attack. In the main artery, blood clots favor a stroke.

Investigation and diagnosis

In the first step, doctors do a blood test.

Determination of cholesterol and blood sugar levels

According to Professor Stefan it is, among others. high blood sugar and certain cholesterol levels, which can be signs of arteriosclerosis. Including high LDL cholesterol ("More than 150 milligrams per deciliter, in diabetics more than 100 milligrams per deciliter are relevant") and lipoprotein a.

An overview of the different cholesterol levels (and tips for lowering them naturally) can be found here.

Heart action measurements

If atherosclerosis is suspected, the patient is also bugged. In detail, however, the procedure and components of the examination depend on where the calcifications are suspected. Depending on the suspicion, an electrocardiogram (EKG) or an exercise EKG can also be useful. This is a diagnostic procedure in which the patient's cardiac actions are measured under stress.

Simple imaging examination procedures

In order to be able to make a reliable diagnosis, doctors usually use imaging procedures that can reveal any thickening of the vessel walls. In this context, Professor Stefan emphasizes the so-called "Carotid Doppler" method. That non-invasive ultrasound examination makes structural changes in the vessels and vessel walls of the neck clearly visible.

In contrast, the method of stress echocardiography is usually used to inspect the coronary arteries. This involves an ultrasound examination of the heart, for example when the bike is stressed or a special medication is given. Doctors use this to identify functional disorders of the heart muscle that are based on poor blood flow to the heart muscle under stress.

Treatment of atherosclerosis

Pre-existing diseases that can promote arteriosclerosis (such as the above-mentioned obesity, fatty liver and metabolic diseases) should be treated.


Depending on the severity of the disease, drug treatment may be useful. To prevent or relieve atherosclerosis, medical professionals usually prescribe drugs that are also supposed to prevent other problems of the cardiovascular system. Including coagulants (also known colloquially as "blood thinners") and antihypertensive agents.

Interventional therapies using catheters and operations

Treatment is not always possible without surgery. There are different methods for this, depending on the findings.

In the area of ​​the heart, neck and leg arteries there is the possibility of balloon catheters, which are supposed to artificially expand the constricted vessels, or artificial vessels, with the help of which blood is diverted from very constricted vessels. Sometimes, however, surgeons can use the body's own material from other parts of the patient's body.

Better: take precautions!

Prevention should begin before any hardening of the arteries occurs - in the form of a healthy lifestyle. Risk factors, such as smoking or an unhealthy diet, should be avoided. Instead, it is better to eat appropriately, get enough sleep and exercise. Then you've already done a lot for the health of your arteries.

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