When the average person hears the word “plaque” the first thought that comes to mind is the plaque you get scraped off your teeth during a routine dentist appointment. However, did you know that plaque can accumulate within the arteries?
What is plaque?
Plaque buildup is composed of fatty deposits that clog arteries and thicken blood vessel walls. Plaque accumulates over time, which is why it is often referred to as a “buildup”. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, fats, cellular waste product, and a clothing agent called fibrin.
Depending on the amount of plaque and how quickly it builds up, it can either partially or fully block an artery causing a slew of health issues.
Plaque may accumulate within the arteries leading to the heart, the neck arteries supplying blood to the brain, and the arteries within the lower extremities.
How does plaque form?
Buildup may start for people in their late 30s and worsen when they reach their 50s and 60s. Many studies suggest that when an artery’s inner lining is damaged, plaque tends to collect more rapidly.
There are a few risk factors that may contribute to its accretion, which may include:
- High blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- High amounts of sugar in the blood stream due to insulin resistance or diabetes
Other lifestyle factors that may accelerate plaque buildup include:
- Smoking or using tobacco products
- Being over the age of 50
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Eating foods high in saturated fats and sodium
Poor Circulation and Arterial Plaque
When arteries are narrowed due to plaque buildup, blood flow decreases which can lead to poor circulation. If you see the visual below, you can see how the blood flow can become severely limited. The artery’s job is to carry blood away from the heart and toward other tissues and organs. They have the important job of delivering vital nutrients and oxygen to different areas of the body. When plaque buildup prevents this from successfully happening, those organs may miss out on oxygen and nutrients they need to function.Clogged arteries in the lower extremities can cause serious health complications such as:
- Heart attack
- Limb loss
- Arterial ulcers
- Cardiac arrest
Plaque buildup within the lower extremities is known as Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). This occurs when the legs and feet do not receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand.
Diagnosing Peripheral Artery Disease
In many cases, the narrowing of the arteries does not cause any physical symptoms. However, clogged arteries within the arteries of the lower extremities may cause some symptoms that should not be ignored.
Peripheral Artery Disease symptoms may include:
- Leg, thigh, buttocks, or calf cramping during or after activity
- Difficulty climbing stairs or lifting legs up due to inability or heaviness
- Leg numbness, tingling, or weakness
- Shiny skin on your legs or ankles
- Slow toenail or leg hair growth
- Non-healing or slow-healing wounds on the legs, toes, or ankles
- Coldness felt in my leg compared to the other
- Erectile dysfunction in men
- Legs or feet have a blue or grey hue
- Weak pulse in your legs or feet
- Difficulty sleeping due to leg pain
Pain typically stops when at rest; however if PAD has progressed, the discomfort may continue after you sit or lay down.
Many people, especially those over 50, discount their leg pain and consider it just another part of aging. If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should get checked for PAD immediately.
An Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI) test can determine if you have PAD or not and understand what stage you may be. An ABI test measures the blood pressure in your ankle and compares it to the blood pressure levels in your arm. This can detect if you have blockages that need to be addressed.
Treating Peripheral Artery Disease
Thankfully, poor circulation caused by clogged arteries can be improved. At USA Vascular Centers, we offer a nonsurgical, outpatient solution to treat Peripheral Artery Disease without hospitalization or surgery. We use advanced ultrasound technology to implement a balloon stent within the artery that has the plaque buildup. When used in conjunction with lifestyle changes and medication, circulation in the lower extremities can be regained.
Our vascular physicians specialize in minimally invasive technologies. They are passionate about improving their patients’ lives and providing them with empathetic, communicative health care. If you think you may have Peripheral Artery Disease, or have one of the above risk factors, give us a call at 888-773-2193 or schedule online today.