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Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) (Part 2)

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

This is a continuation of last week’s article on atherosclerosis.


As we get older our arteries naturally begin to harden and narrow leading to atherosclerosis. A number of things that accelerate this process including high-fat diets and cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, excessive Alcohol intake, family history (it tends to run in families), ethnicity (It is more common among people of African and African-Caribbean descent) and air pollution.


Treatment for atherosclerosis aims to prevent the condition from worsening to the point that it can trigger a serious complication such as a heart attack. This can be achieved by making lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthier diet or increasing exercise. There are several medications available to treat many of the underlying causes of atherosclerosis, such as a high cholesterol level and high blood pressure. Antiplatelet medication such as aspirin thins blood so helps prevent clots. In some cases surgery may be required to widen or bypass a section of a blocked or narrowed artery. More detailed information about lifestyle factors to reduce atherosclerosis such as healthy eating, losing weight, increasing exercise, giving up smoking and more can be viewed at


Surgery may be required if certain important blood vessels become narrowed including the coronary and carotid arteries.

Coronary angioplasty

Coronary angioplasty is a type of surgery used to widen the coronary arteries. A long, flexible plastic tube called a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel and a balloon attached to the catheter is inflated to widen the artery. A small metal tube called a stent is often used to help keep the artery open.

Coronary artery bypass graft

A coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) can be used to treat narrowing of the coronary arteries. During a CABG, healthy blood vessel segments (grafts) are taken from other parts of the body in order to bypass the blocked artery. Segments of vein taken from the legs, arms and chest are used to create a new channel through which blood can be directed past the blocked part of the artery. This enables more blood to get through to the heart muscle.

Carotid arteries

Surgery is usually only recommended to widen the carotid arteries if the person has experienced previous symptoms related to a blocked blood supply, such as a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA). Unlike the coronary arteries, preventative surgery on the carotid arteries is not usually recommended, except in cases where testing shows high levels of narrowing. Studies show the benefits achieved in reducing the risks of a stroke in most people without any symptoms are outweighed by the risks associated with surgery. 

Carotid endarterectomy

A carotid endarterectomy is the most commonly used method of widening the carotid artery (the main artery in the neck). During the procedure a cut is made into the narrowed part of the artery and the inner lining of the artery is removed, along with any plaque inside it. Most surgeons sew a patch into the opening to widen this section of the artery. The patch may be taken from a vein in the thigh or it may be synthetic.

Carotid angioplasty

A carotid angioplasty uses a balloon catheter. The catheter is inserted into the femoral artery (the body’s main blood vessel) in the groin. Under the guidance of X-ray, the catheter is threaded up into the femoral artery until it reaches the carotid artery. The balloon is then inflated to around 5mm in diameter. This expands the artery, clearing the narrowing so blood is able to flow through it again.

Extracranial to intracranial bypass

A new type of surgery used to treat blockage of the carotid artery is known as an extracranial to intracranial bypass. In this type of surgery a section of blood vessel found outside of the skull is diverted and used to bypass the site of the blockage so the blood supply to the brain can be restored. Extracranial to intracranial bypass is still very much an evolving field of treatment and it is unclear how effective or safe it may be in the long-term.

Can L’arginine benefit your heart?

As mentioned last week, L-arginine is best known for its cardiovascular benefits and can relax blood vessels. Research shows it reduces stress on the heart, improves circulation and lowers blood pressure. L’Arginine can increase blood flow without the side effects associated with some prescription vasodilators such as headaches and flushing. Reduced blood pressure may be seen within a few days of commencing L’Arginine. The benefits of l-arginine was part of the research that lead to three American scientists winning the 1998 Nobel Prize for Medicine. However, as of yet, research has not shown that L’arginine supplementation reduces the risk of heart attack. By naturally dilating blood vessels, it can also benefit many of the vascular diseases mentioned above.   


What is our BPro Cardio Screen Service?

Whelehans now has a cardiovascular health check called BPro Cardio Screen. This test measures the stiffness of your arteries to help identify risk of blockages and your risk of cardiovascular disease and circulation problems. BPRo is placed like a watch on your wrist and is completely pain free. A pulse wave reads and calculates a wave signal that indicates the elasticity of large, small, and peripheral artery walls as well as tests for stress, central blood pressure, heart rate, and more. It is now only €35 (was €50); it only takes about 15 minutes to get checked. Our next clinic is Thursday February 25th from 9am to 5pm. Book by calling Whelehans at 04493 34591

Arginine or BPro Cardio Screen is not meant as a substitute for proper medical assessment with your doctor and should not replace prescription medication


For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans, log on to or dial 04493 34591.


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