Symptoms of arteriosclerosis


Depending on the affected vascular segment, vascular constriction due to arteriosclerosis can also cause different symptoms. It is important to mention that the first arteriosclerotic changes do not cause any symptoms at all and are not noticed. A certain amount of vasoconstriction is also normal in a healthy lifestyle, depending on age, and begins at a young age.

First symptoms

Up to a restriction of 50% of the vessel lumen, no symptoms of arteriosclerosis are perceived, since the mentioned bypass circuits can cover the oxygen debt. If arteriosclerosis progresses further, if the coronary vessels are affected, load-dependent symptoms such as chest pain occur. Further narrowing leads to pain at rest and, if the arteries are completely blocked, to a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

In the vessels that supply the brain, there are initially symptoms of memory impairment, neuronal failure, paralysis (usually regressive) and unconsciousness with falls (syncope). Complete closure leads to a stroke which, if not treated in time, can result in permanent paralysis and memory impairment. If the vessels of the extremities are affected, minor constrictions can cause pain in the leg after walking for a long time.

Arteriosclerosis of the blood vessels leading to the feet is called peripheral arterial occlusive disease – or PAD for short. Here, the arteriosclerotic constriction of the blood vessels ensures that not enough oxygen and heat can reach the outermost end of the blood vessels, i.e. the toes, via the blood. This results in a circumstance that mainly older people complain about: cold feet.

However, it must be said that not every person with “permanently” cold feet suffers from PAVK. Diabetes is another major factor that causes cold and above all painless feet. In the case of arteriosclerosis of the blood vessels running in the leg, there are some indications of reduced blood circulation, especially in the toes.

Besides the cold, these are mainly very thick and usually brittle toenails. The reduced blood circulation causes more cells of the toenails to die off and, like a kind of cornea, ensures that the thickness of the toenails increases. Another very prominent symptom are toes that are very pale.

Normally, when they are squeezed tightly between two fingers, the toes fill with blood again within a second and they regain their rosy colour. In patients with PAVK this takes considerably longer, or the toes remain pale white for the most part. Do these symptoms apply to you?

a very classical symptom when the blood vessels of the arms are affected by arteriosclerosis is the fact that fingers and hands are cold. Cold hands, however, do not mean that every person who has cold fingers or hands automatically has an arteriosclerotic problem. There are many circumstances that can contribute to people getting cold hands in particular.

However, the fact that arteriosclerosis of the upper extremities produces cold fingers and hands is logical in that less blood – as a transport medium for oxygen and heat – reaches the fingers. This is the best way to detect the reduced supply of oxygen. Those affected usually have so-called drum flail fingers and watch glass nails.

In simple terms, the reduced oxygen transport through the blood vessels ensures that more body cells die off at the end of the stretch, i.e. at the fingertips. These cells form more cornea there than normal, so that the fingertips appear almost bloated. Hence the name drum flail finger.

The cause behind the watch glass nails is basically the same. However, in this case the cells of the fingernails are no longer adequately supplied with oxygen and begin to die. This results in a fingernail that is significantly thicker and larger than a normal fingernail, so-called watch glass nails.

If these symptoms apply to you, you can find out more about them at

  • Circulatory problem in the arm
  • Circulatory problems in the finger

The symptoms that affect the bowel are rather unspecific. Primarily it is a stomach ache. Only after a closer examination of the corresponding blood vessels using CT or MRI can calcification of the vessels that supply the intestine with blood be confirmed with certainty.

The abdominal pain cannot be provoked by pressure on the abdomen and could possibly become stronger during sporting activities, as the abdomen is already less supplied with blood during sports. However, atherosclerosis of the intestinal blood vessels hardly ever occurs in isolation and is rarely the organ that causes the most unpleasant symptoms. As a rule, blood vessels in the arms, legs or carotid arteries are affected much earlier and their effects cause much more unpleasant symptoms.

Symptoms of the aorta, the so-called main artery, do not usually affect it directly, but rather organs that receive their blood supply from the main artery. For example, the kidneys are supplied with much less blood, which causes damage to the kidneys and an increase in blood pressure. However, aortic arteriosclerosis can only be visualized with the help of ultrasound, CT or MRI.

Since calcifications in arteriosclerosis tend to accumulate at forks or branches of the blood vessels, the aorta is a predestined blood vessel. Do you suspect a blocked carotid artery? – Then the following articles can help you:

  • Blocked Carotid Artery – What to do?
  • Diseases of the Aorta

Arteriosclerosis does not really affect the brain, but the blood vessels that supply it. Mainly the two carotid arteries. They are the main supply routes for the brain.

As with other organs, reduced blood flow causes cells to die at the end of the supply route because they are no longer supplied with sufficient oxygen. Since certain regions of the brain are linked to different abilities, the symptoms always depend on which part of the brain is currently suffering from a reduced supply. Conversely, however, this also has the advantage that the examiner knows in which region he has to look for the reduced blood supply if he can interpret the symptoms correctly.

For example, motor difficulties may occur. Actions may be slightly delayed, etc. Furthermore, fainting may occur briefly if the blood flow to the brain is further restricted.

For example by getting up too jerkily or similar. However, arteriosclerosis is usually only really clear if a thrombus or embolus is still lodged in the narrowed area, which leads to a complete blockage and subsequently to a stroke. The affected persons usually begin to speak in a blurred way; sometimes it can also lead to temporary paralysis of arms, legs, hands or feet.

You fear a stroke? coronary artery disease (CHD) is probably the most prominent site for the occurrence of arteriosclerosis, and it is also the site that can best be treated with current technology. Classically, patients with CHD are noticed by the feeling of tightness in the chest during physical exertion.

It is similar to having a heavy stone on your chest, which makes it difficult for you to breathe. Depending on the severity of the arteriosclerosis, this condition can last longer or shorter and can occur during heavier or lighter physical exertion. The symptoms become fulminant when the constriction is blocked by blood clots or a calcium deposit breaks off and completely interrupts the blood flow to the heart muscle.

This is called a heart attack, and is accompanied by nausea and a feeling of tightness in the chest. In men, this is usually accompanied by a pain radiating into the left arm. PAVK – peripheral arterial occlusive disease affects the arms or – much more frequently – the legs.

The blood flow is reduced by the arteriosclerotic deposits, so that the temperature balance in the hands and feet is insufficient. The patients therefore often complain about cold hands and feet. Another striking feature is the limited walking distance that patients can walk without having to stop. The musculature of the legs suffers from the insufficient blood supply and begins to hurt, so that people have to stop to allow their muscles to recover. This is the reason why the pAVK was given the name “shop window disease”.