4 Silent Signs You May Have Clogged Arteries

These four surprising clues can point to clogged arteries and underlying heart disease, according to Joel K. Kahn, MD.

By Joel K. Kahn, MD < <
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine < and December 2013
  • Loading
    Bryan Christie Design for Reader’s Digest

    Each year in the United States, more than 700,000 people suffer a heart attack, and almost 400,000 people die of coronary heart disease (CHD).

    Preventing heart disease in patients is my main goal, but early detection is the next best thing. This can lead to changes in lifestyle and medical therapies that can delay or deny the onset of a heart attack; almost 80 percent of heart disease is preventable with lifestyle changes. Many of my patients are shocked to learn about the following clues to underlying heart disease.

    iStock/Thinkstock

    Erectile dysfunction (ED) could mean clogged arteries.

    Men have a built-in warning system for silent CHD. When achieving an erection is difficult or impossible, it can be a sign of clogged arteries in the pelvis that presents before a heart attack hits. There are, on average, three to five years between the onset of ED and the finding of CHD, which is plenty of time to detect and to work on preventing heart issues. If you and your partner are worried about sexual performance, look for and treat root causes of diseased arteries before just popping a blue pill.

    Photodisc/Thinkstock

    Baldness could indicate clogged arteries.

    In a comprehensive new study of almost 37,000 men, severe baldness at the crown of the head strongly predicted the presence of silent CHD at any age. In a separate study of more than 7,000 people (including over 4,000 women), moderate to severe baldness doubled the risk of dying from heart disease in both sexes. 

    Bryan Christie Design for Reader’s Digest

    Ear crease might indicate clogged arteries.

    One of the stranger markers, a crease in your earlobe (specifically, an angled crease in the ear that runs diagonally from the canal to the lower edge of the earlobe) has been mentioned in medical research reports as a sign of silent CHD for decades. The ear crease may result from poor circulation, including in arteries in the heart. Although some medical professionals have argued that a crease is just a general sign of aging, researchers last year used the most sophisticated CT scan method to measure silent CHD and found that ear crease predicted heart disease even after the authors accounted for other risk factors, such as age and smoking.

    Hemera/Thinkstock

    Calf pain when you walk might mean clogged arteries.

    This is known as claudication (from the Latin for “to limp”). Atherosclerosis can block leg arteries, particularly in smokers, before CHD is diagnosed. This symptom requires an evaluation without delay. Your doctor will examine the pulses in your legs and perform simple measurements of leg blood pressure and blood flow to confirm a diagnosis of poor circulation. It is critical that heart disease be diagnosed as early as possible because there are many dietary and medical treatments that can help reverse the issue. Some of my patients took these early clues to heart. I advised them to eat more plant-based foods and fewer animal products and to start a walking program. Their calf pain completely resolved within weeks and has not recurred for years. Anyone with any of the above signs of silent CHD should know his or her numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting glucose). Ask your doctor if you should be checked for heart disease with an EKG, a coronary calcium CT imaging, or an exercise stress testing. To borrow from Ben Franklin, an ounce of prevention (plus a bowl of kale) is worth a pound of cure.

    iStock/Thinkstock

    Next: What are the best foods to eat to avoid clogged arteries?

    Certain heart-healthy foods truly act like medicine for your blood vessels, says Dr. Kahn. These are the best foods to eat to prevent or reverse heart disease »

    Your Comments

    • xoxoforever@yahoo.com

      I’m only 31 and my dr suspects clogged arteries. I go for testing this week. Been out of breath for 3 yrs and it’s progressively getting worse. Can barely get dressed or shower. I get out of breath just closing a door gently and I can’t even open a window without fainting. Just writing this up there in case anyone else has these symptoms, email me xoxoforever@yahoo.com. I’d like to help others and have support as well. I’m a female and I see this article was written for men but still. I am very disabled from something. They think it is cardiovascular related. When I roll over in bed my heart palpitates and I nearly pass out. I get faint feeling from laughing and talking. If anyone else has these symptoms and has been diagnosed, please email me. You would be helping me out!

      • Rach

        Hi there, I hope you have worked out what might be going on with your heart. I have just had blood tests for cholesterol e.t.c I am 38 female. Have family hist of high cholesterol and strokes. My main symptom is very painful and tired legs going up even a small amount of stairs and I have trouble finishing my cardio at the gym. Hurts my legs too much. Will wait and see. I hope the news from your doctors is ok.

    • Susan Cannon

      What a great article – for MEN. What about signals for WOMEN??? Last I checked, erectile dysfunction isn’t a problem for us.

      • NPM

        Typical woman, trying to make everything about themselves.

    • HP Austin

      Read the book “Is Your Cardiologist Killing You?” by Dr. Sherry Rogers MD. It is the best short source of information on what you should do. Also, there’s a product called “Blockbuster All Clear” that contains serrapeptase and 15 other supplements and it seems to work. Vitamin K2 reduces plaque in arteries. Pomegranate juice, 4 ounces per day, clears plaque by about 13% in 3 months and about 30% in 12 months. POM brand 100% pomegranate juice is sold at Whole Foods and grocery stores such as HEB. Carlson’s E Gems Elite contains all 8 types of Vitamin E and is very helpful. Cod liver oil from the Arctic is recommended by Dr. Rogers. Root canals and periodontal disease CAUSE some heart disease because the bacteria inflame the coronary arteries (see the book “Root Canal Coverup” by Hal Huggins or one of his other books). Magnesium is very important to heart health. Try the Malate or Citrate forms. Check out the “Total Wellness” newsletter by Sherry Rogers for very helpful information. (I do not profit one cent by any of this advice.)

    • errn

      OMG These are things that they don’t tell you I always worried about my husband because he had the creases in his ears, always told me I was crazy. I lost my husband 5 months ago to a massive heart attack. He turned 60 two months before he died. He had ED, Creases in his ears, and had had a DVT in his legs we are both nurses and he had no signs except those I just read if we had only knew my husband of almost 42 years would maybe still with me.

      • TravelMom

        Wow – so sorry for your loss. I’m hoping that my husband will listen to me… so scary.

    • Cathy Antone

      thank you Margaret. It was all really scary but I mad it through with flying colors with Gods help.
      Am back home & feeling pretty great.
      Merry Christmas
      CAthy A

    • Cathy Antone

      I was having trouble this past week with a pressure in my chest & shortness of breath. I went to my doctor & he sent me to the hospital to have tests ran.(they came back good) the next day my dr sent me to a heart dr. He ran more test & the mostly came back good. BUT he wanted to do a catherization the next day because H thought I had a little blockage. haha. when he did the catherization he found 3 blocked arteries one on both sides of my heart & one in the middle of the heart. Now I will have a triple bypass on tue or wendsday of this week, I haven’t smoked or drank for over 30 years. I am almost 60 in jan what a shocker.
      Thanks CAthy Antone

      • Puneet Asnani

        U r Lucky Enough You Don’t Have A Heart Attack

      • Margaret Burgett

        Cathy, wishing you the best of luck. Will say a prayer for you. I had this happen to me a few years ago. Everything worked out great. And it will for you also.