What is arterial insufficiency?

Arterial insufficiency is decreased blood flow or lack of blood flow through your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart, out to your tissues and organs. Blood flowing through your arteries carries oxygen to all the cells of your body.

Arterial insufficiency occurs when your arteries become narrowed or blocked by an underlying disease or condition. Narrowing of an artery is also called stenosis. This decreases blood flow and oxygen delivery to the cells, tissues and organs being supplied by your arteries. Without adequate blood flow and oxygen, cells and tissues may not function properly and may even begin to die.

The most common cause of arterial insufficiency is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty material, such as fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream, collects along the walls of arteries. The fatty material thickens and hardens into structures called plaques. Plaques narrow your arteries and may eventually block blood flow through them. Plaques can also rupture and cause a blood clot to develop in the artery. This can lead to a life-threatening condition, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Arterial insufficiency can also be caused by emboli. Emboli are blood clots that travel through the blood until they become lodged in an artery and block blood flow. This can also cause a life-threatening condition, such as a pulmonary embolism.

Arterial insufficiency can affect many areas of your body. The symptoms of arterial insufficiency will depend on the arteries and the areas of the body that are affected. It can result in symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, when it affects the arteries around the heart. When arteries to the brain are affected, you may experience symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke. This includes dizziness, numbness, vision problems, or difficulty walking or talking.

Arterial insufficiency in your legs or lower abdomen is often due to peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD causes poor circulation and cramping (claudication) in your legs and feet. Arterial insufficiency that affects arteries supplying your kidneys can cause kidney problems and kidney failure. Arterial insufficiency can also affect arteries that supply your intestines, causing abdominal pain after eating, diarrhea, and potentially serious complications.

Fortunately, the most common cause of arterial insufficiency, atherosclerosis, can be treated successfully with medications, a healthy diet, lifestyle changes, and certain medical procedures. Even better, you can reduce your risk of atherosclerosis by following a heart-healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and having regular checkups with your healthcare provider.

Treatment of other underlying causes of arterial insufficiency is also available. Treatment varies depending on the specific cause, the arteries involved, and the resulting symptoms.

Left untreated, arterial insufficiency may lead to serious complications, such as renal failure and blood clots. This can cause stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or acute mesenteric ischemia (lack of blood flow to the intestines). However, many underlying causes of arterial insufficiency are preventable or treatable. Seek regular medical care throughout your lifetime to help prevent, promptly diagnose, and treat potential causes of arterial insufficiency. Seek prompt medical care if you have unexplained symptoms or are being treated for atherosclerosis but symptoms, such as leg pain or cramping, recur or are persistent.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure, loss of consciousness, severe headache, severe abdominal pain, paralysis, difficulty speaking, or inability to move any body part.


What are the symptoms of arterial insufficiency?

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of arterial insufficiency. Atherosclerosis narrows your arteries and reduces blood flow to your body’s organs and tissues. This results in a number of symptoms. The symptoms can vary in intensity among individuals. Mild atherosclerosis and arterial insufficiency usually do not produce any symptoms. However, symptoms of moderate to severe atherosclerosis ... Read more about arterial insufficiencysymptoms


What causes arterial insufficiency?

The most common cause of arterial insufficiency is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is caused by the accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the bloodstream. These substances build up on the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques. Plaque narrows and stiffens the arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow through the artery. Read more about arterial insufficiencycauses


How is arterial insufficiency treated?

Treatment of arterial insufficiency begins with seeking medical care from your healthcare provider. To determine if you have arterial insufficiency, your healthcare provider will ask you to undergo diagnostic testing.

Treatment plans for arterial insufficiency vary depending on the underlying disease or condition. For example, lifestyle changes and drug therapy are the mainstays o... Read more about arterial insufficiencytreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation