Understanding the causes of plaque buildup in your arteries due to high cholesterol is essential

Plaque formation in your arteries can result in numerous cardiovascular complications. Read on to discover the causes and strategies to mitigate this risk.

High Cholesterol: Know What Causes Plaque Buildup In Your Arteries

Several factors, including an unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption, can compromise your heart health. What’s common among these aspects is their contribution to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is characterized by the accumulation of plaque on the inner walls of arteries, leading to narrowing and hardening, which restricts blood flow and increases the risk of Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs) like heart attacks and strokes. According to StatsPearls Publishing, approximately 50% of deaths in Westernized societies are attributed to this “silent” condition. So, what are its causes? Dr. Salil Shirodkar, Senior Consultant Cardiologist at Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, sheds light on its causes and shares ways to reduce its risk.

What leads to the accumulation of plaque in the arteries

What leads to the accumulation of plaque in the arteries

Several factors can contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries. These factors include:

High cholesterol

Although not all cholesterol is harmful and certain types are necessary for building healthy cells, elevated levels of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the bloodstream can contribute to the development of plaque in the arterial walls. This elevation significantly increases the risk of stroke and heart attack, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Factors such as consuming a diet rich in saturated and trans fats, lack of physical activity, and smoking can exacerbate this condition.


As stated by Dr. Shirodkar, persistent inflammation within the arteries can harm the endothelial cells that line the arterial walls. This damage facilitates the accumulation of cholesterol and other substances, thus fostering the formation of plaque.

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Another prevalent risk factor for heart disease is high blood pressure, characterized by elevated pressure within the arteries. This increased pressure can lead to damage to the arterial walls, rendering them more prone to plaque accumulation.


Smoking stands as one of the primary contributors to the formation of plaque in the arteries. Tobacco smoke contains detrimental compounds such as nicotine and carbon monoxide, which can inflict damage on the arteries, trigger inflammation, and foster plaque accumulation. According to a 2020 news release by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.09 million individuals succumb to tobacco-related heart disease annually, constituting one-fifth of all heart disease-related deaths.


Diabetes also plays a significant role in the development of atherosclerosis. Dr. Shirodkar explains that elevated blood sugar levels can harm the lining of blood vessels, promote inflammation, and expedite the accumulation of fatty deposits. These deposits narrow the arteries and elevate the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other vascular conditions.

Indicators of Blocked Arteries

Indicators of Blocked Arteries

Common signs and complications associated with plaque formation and clogged arteries include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and lightheadedness, which can indicate a heart attack.
  • Leg pain while walking (claudication), leg numbness or weakness, coldness in the affected limb, and slow-healing wounds or sores as a result of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).
  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg; difficulty speaking or understanding speech; vision problems; severe headache; and loss of balance or coordination, which can indicate a stroke.
  • Other complications may include heart failure, a condition where the heart cannot pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body’s needs, and sudden cardiac death, which can result from arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms), as explained by Dr. Shirodkar.

Strategies for Lowering Risk Factors

Strategies for Lowering Risk Factors

To mitigate the risk of clogged arteries and prevent heart-related issues and other chronic conditions such as high cholesterol and hypertension, it’s crucial to implement the following strategies:

  1. Follow a nutritious diet that includes ample fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  2. Restrict intake of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium.
  3. Engage in regular physical activity.
  4. Quit smoking.
  5. Practice stress management techniques.
  6. Monitor and manage blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels.
  7. Limit alcohol consumption.
  8. Maintain a healthy weight through balanced nutrition and regular exercise.


Plaque accumulation, known as atherosclerosis, within the arteries presents a considerable threat to heart health. Various factors such as the consumption of fatty and processed foods, lack of physical activity, and smoking contribute to conditions like high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes, all of which can precipitate atherosclerosis. This condition narrows the arteries, impeding blood flow and elevating the likelihood of cardiovascular events. Hence, it is imperative to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle to mitigate these risks. Regular monitoring of blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels is essential for staying informed about one’s heart health.