Overview Causes

Arterial Occlusions disease

What is arterial Occlusions disease?

Occlusions artery disease is a slowly progressing disease through which arteries throughout the body become progressively narrowed and eventually completely blocked.

Artery blocked by plaque.

The salient features are:

  • Occlusions arterial disease is very common and will affect every person to some degree.
  • The occlusive arterial disease develops slowly throughout life.
  • The occlusive arterial disease affects all the arteries in the body to come degree.
  • Occlusions arterial disease causes life-threatening complications with its effect on the arteries supplying the vital organs – heart, brain, kidneys.
  • Occlusive arterial disease is the commonest cause of death on the west.

Causes of Occlusions arterial disease?

Arteries are not simply conduits for carrying blood from the heart to the entire body. They are complex living structures and the most delicate part is their inner lining or endothelium. This is one cell thin on the inner lining of the artery.

This endothelium is so thin that it can be seen with a microscope with difficulty. It seals the inside of the artery and prevents blood from sticking on the inside of the artery and forming colts.

A damaged endothelium becomes leaky and if it is lost totally the arterial wall becomes exposed to blood which immediately forms clots and becomes occluded.

Various layers of an artery.
Plaque lifting the inner lining of the arterial wall.


If the endothelium is damaged it can heal. However with repeated trauma a scar forms on the inside of the artery and forms a bump. There are many things that can damage the arterial endothelium – toxic blood molecules and physical damage.

Smoking generates chemical products in the smoke which are inhaled by the lungs and absorbed into the blood and distributed throughout the body. These damage the endothelium which becomes leaky.

This breakdown of the endothelium leads to other blood products like cholesterol to pass into the arterial wall which causes irritation to the arterial wall. With repetition of such trauma the artery becomes progressively more scarred and large bump grows within its wall.

This bump is called atheroma which literally means lump of porridge because of its looks. This atheroma grows and narrows the artery till it blocks. Occasionally atheroma may suddenly give way and block an artery totally and irreversibly.

Should this happen the blood supply to the heart muscle is blocked and a heart attack occurs. If this is one of the main heart arteries then the persons heart stops pumping and the person will not survive.

Is smoking the only cause of Occlusions arterial disease?

Anything that causes damage to the delicate endothelium lining of arteries over a long period of time will result in irreversible occlusive artery disease. The major risk factors for developing the arterial disease are:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Male gender
  • High blood fat (hyperlipidemia)
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar (diabetes)
  • Unfavourable genes

It can never be predicted when the person will develop the arterial disease but the greater the risk factors the more the chances. It is like being a car driver, driving rashly with your eyes closed. There is a strong likely hood of an accident but you cannot predict when it will happen and how bad it will be. If you are a careful safe driver with your eyes open the chances of an accident occurring are reduced but never totally eliminated.

The safety strategy is to reduce the risk and keep your fingers crossed.

Some of the risk factors we have no control over like age, gender and genes.

There are other factors that can be eliminated like smoking or controlled like blood pressure, high food fat and diabetes.

If I stop smoking will the arterial disease go away?

No. The symptoms caused by the arterial disease will improve considerably and the progression of the disease will slow down. There are other reasons to give up smoking – this is the single most important factor of lung cancer and other serious lung diseases.

What will happen if I have Occlusions arterial disease and do nothing about it?

Occlusive arterial disease is a progressive systemic arterial disease which will anyway worsen over time and eventually affect all parts of the systemic arterial circulation.

Heart attack – The most common complication occurs when the arteries to the heart are affected resulted in fatal heart attack, chest pain, heart failure, irregular heart rhythms, loss of mobility and loss of independence and poor quality of life.

Intermittent claudication – Blocked arteries to the legs result in pain on exercise (intermittent claudication) which may progress to constant severe pain in the feet, leg ulcers and gangrene (critical limb ischemia).

Stroke with facial palsy – Diseased arteries in the neck and head cause fatal stroke and permanent brain damage and severe mental and physical disability.

Damage to the arteries of the kidneys can cause dangerously high blood pressure and kidney failure.

What can I do to prevent Occlusions arterial disease from getting worse?

Quit smoking -The simple answer is to stop doing things that make it worse like smoking.

Healthy diet & Daily walks – Seek medical advice for testing of other risk factors that are preventable or can improve like controlling blood pressure, high blood fat and high blood sugar.