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Blocked Artery Symptoms & Silent Heart Attacks

Updated on January 27, 2015

Early recognition of blocked artery symptoms is vital.

Blocked arteries obstruct the free flow of blood throughout the body, restricting the supply of oxygen to the heart and other vital organs. When the obstructions become very severe, blood flow to the heart is restricted, often resulting in shortness of breath or angina.

Rrecognizing the symptoms early can help to prevent cardiac arrest and potentially save a life. The blocked artery symptoms an individual will experience may vary, depending on which arteries are affected.

Artery with Atherosclerosis

Symptoms that could indicate blocked arteries

Early symptoms of blocked arteries include:

  • chest pains
  • headaches
  • difficulty breathing
  • infection (though it may be difficult to detect infection early on)

Because these are all rather minor symptoms, they typically go unchecked and blocked arteries often remain undiagnosed until the condition becomes life threatening.

Angina is a very strong indicator of blocked arteries.

Over time, as fat and cholesterol become deposited on the artery walls, they begin to form a thick plaque, causing the arteries to narrow and harden. As a result, blood flow is slowed or can even be blocked entirely. The coronary arteries, which supply oxygen rich blood to the heart, are especially vulnerable to this buildup of fat and cholesterol.

Angina it is sometimes confused with indigestion. It typically feels like a squeezing pressure or pain in the chest. Individuals experiencing chronic chest pain should visit their doctor as soon as possible.

Blocked artery symptoms should be checked.

Symptoms will usually disappear in less than 24 hours, but this is a serious condition and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.

Carotid arteries can also be affected.

Other arteries that may be affected by blocked artery symptoms are the carotid arteries, which are located in the neck and are responsible for supplying blood to the brain. If a blockage forms here, lack of oxygen to the brain can cause a stroke or even death. Symptoms of a carotid artery blockage include dizziness, headaches, numbness on one side of the body, impaired vision, and difficulty speaking.

Peripheral artery blockage symptoms

Peripheral arteries lead to the extremities. Most often, peripheral artery blockage is accompanied by muscle pain in the leg. This pain may be relatively mild, and quite often, no doctor is consulted and treatment is never administered. Blocked peripheral arteries can lead to infection and even gangrene in some extreme cases.

Silent Heart Attack Symptoms to Watch For

The dangers of silent heart attacks

Early intervention and treatment are important factors leading to the successful recovery from a heart attack. Though suffering a heart attack is difficult under normal circumstances, the victim of a silent heart attack is often unaware of the danger. As a result, valuable time for treatment is lost, and the condition may even remain untreated, potentially compounding damage to the heart. Statistics show that fatalities related to silent heart attacks are double those related to those with classic symptoms. Quick recognition of silent heart attack symptoms is the first step in successful treatment, improving the victim’s chances for survival and recovery.

Symptoms of Silent Heart Attacks

Identifying Silent Heart Attack Symptoms

As many as 25% of heart attack victims do not experience typical symptoms associated with a normal heart attack, such as chest pain and pressure. The silent heart attack symptoms that are most likely to be noticed include shortness of breath and discomfort in the chest, arms or jaw that steadily eases or disappears completely after a short period of time.

The individual suffering silent heart attack symptoms might also become tired easily, and many victims have reported a sense of doom or foreboding prior to a heart attack. Electrocardiogram (ECG), blood tests, and a detailed study of the patient’s medical history are typically required to confirm that an individual has suffered a silent heart attack.

Who is at Risk for a Silent Heart Attack?

Anyone can fall victim to a silent heart attack, but those most at risk include diabetics, survivors of a previous heart attack, people over the age of 65, and those prone to strokes. Women are also more prone to silent heart attacks, as are individuals who take some types of medication on a daily basis.

An angioplasty is a common treatment for blocked arteries and silent heart attacks
An angioplasty is a common treatment for blocked arteries and silent heart attacks

Angioplasty and other treatments for silent heart attacks

Case studies have found that aspirin may be beneficial. Aspirin taken during a heart attack has been shown to help prevent damage to the heart. It is important to note that only aspirin is to be used and no other painkiller should be substituted.

Restoring the blood flow is the top priority in treating a silent heart attack. Thrombolysis (dissolving clots found in the artery) or angioplasty (pushing the artery open using a balloon) can be used to clear a blocked artery and restore blood flow. In some cases, both techniques are used.

Understanding the angioplasty procedure

The angioplasty is actually quite common, and basically consists of using a small balloon to keep open an artery that has been obstructed by fat and cholesterol. Considered to be a non-surgical procedure, patients who receive an angioplasty are usually allowed to leave the hospital the following day.

An angioplasty is commonly needed when there has been sufficient buildup of fat inside of your arteries. Severe blockage can lead to worsening heart disease, chest pains, shortness of breath, and heart attacks.

Do you need an angioplasty?

Doctors have a number of tests at their disposal to first diagnose whether or not an angioplasty will be required. Symptoms can sometimes be minor, with many patients believing it is simply a case of angina. If preliminary tests lead doctors to believe there may be blockage, then other tests are performed, the most common being a thallium stress test. The thallium stress test is a non-invasive procedure in which a radioactive agent is injected into the bloodstream. Then the patient will be required to walk on a treadmill. During this process, a special camera records the thallium as it moves throughout the coronary arteries, and is usually capable of determining whether there is significant blockage or not, and where.

If there is blockage found, then an appointment is made for either an angioplasty, a stent, or cardiac catheterization. A cardiac catheterization is a follow-up procedure to to the thallium stress test to further highlight areas where the blockages have occurred. Another common procedure for this purpose is an angiogram.

After the blockages have been located, the doctors will prescribe either an angioplasty or a stent. However in cases of multiple or very severe blockages, bypass surgery may be required.

What is an angioplasty procedure?

Steps of the angioplasty

The angioplasty is conducted by first numbing the groin area (or to a lesser extent, the arm) with a local anesthetic. After the anesthetic has taken effect, a needle puncture is made, and an extremely thin guide is inserted into the body along a wire. Using a video screen, the cardiologist follows the path of the guide throughout the body, following the main artery to eventually reach the area of the blockage.

Throughout this procedure, the patient will typically not feel any pain, but mild discomfort is usually reported.

The angiogram procedure utilizes the same process, and the angioplasty can usually follow directly afterwards. Once the path to the blocked artery has been established, a small balloon can be directed along the guide to the blockage and positioned accordingly. The balloon is inflated, opening the artery for smooth bloodflow, and then withdrawn.

If necessary, a stent may be used instead of or in addition to an angioplasty. Similar to the balloon, a stent is a small device that can be expanded to help open the artery, but then remains inside the body to hold open the artery permanently.

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