Risk factors and symptoms of blocked blood flow in the arteries
Expert Heart & Vascular Care
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The arteries carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Along with blood, the arteries can become passageways for dangerous blood clots. Blood clots can get stuck in your arteries and block critical blood flow to the organs and tissue.
When a clot breaks free from where it was formed and travels through the artery to block blood flow in another part of the body, this is called an arterial embolism. An arterial embolism can occur in any of your arteries, but it most often happens in the legs and feet.
An arterial embolism that blocks the arteries that supply blood to the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. An arterial embolism that blocks blood flow to the brain or heart can cause a stroke or a heart attack.
What are the symptoms of arterial embolism?
You may experience a range of symptoms with an arterial embolism or none at all, depending on the size of the blood clot and where in the body the flow of blood is blocked.
Early symptoms of an arterial embolism may include muscle pain or spasms in the affected area. If an embolism forms in an arm or leg, you may notice these symptoms in the affected limb:
- Coldness or pallor (pale color)
- Decreased pulse or none at all
- Numbness or tingling
As the condition worsens, you may experience decreased function in the affected limb or organ, tissue death or gangrene, skin shedding, or blisters or ulcers on the skin. If left untreated, an arterial embolism can cause permanent damage to the affected organ or limb. If a limb becomes infected due to lack of blood flow, amputation may be necessary. Unfortunately, another arterial embolism can form even after successful treatment.
Who is at risk for arterial embolism?
If you have a history of these conditions, you are at increased risk for developing an arterial embolism:
- Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries
- Atrial fibrillation, or AFib
- Blood clotting disorders (hypercoagulable states)
- Damage or injury to the wall of an artery
- Endocarditis, an infection inside the heart
- High platelet count or other conditions that increase blood clotting
- Mitral stenosis
- Prosthetic heart valves
Lifestyle choices and certain environmental factors also increase your risk of developing blood clots. Some of these include:
An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.
Carotid duplex ultrasound uses Doppler and traditional ultrasound to assess blood flow in the arteries that supply blood to your brain.
The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.
An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.
Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.
Our heart and vascular teams work together and with other specialties to develop and implement individualized plans to treat a wide variety of conditions. This could include lifestyle modifications, medication or more advanced treatments.
Thrombolysis, also known as thrombolytic therapy, is a treatment to dissolve or break up dangerous blood clots that can cause heart attacks, strokes and other conditions.