Arterial Insufficiency

Arterial insufficiency is diagnosed when your arteries — the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body — stop working at their full capacity. Most of the time, this is caused by atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries from fatty buildup called plaque.

If atherosclerosis happens in your heart, you may have a heart attack. If it happens in the arteries supplying your brain, you may have a stroke. If it happens in your intestines, it is called mesenteric artery ischemia and can cause severe abdominal pain. In your legs, it is called peripheral artery disease, or PAD.


Symptoms will vary depending on where in your body the arterial insufficiency is, but they may include:

  • Abdominal pain, especially after eating
  • Chest pain (also called angina)
  • Cramping in the legs
  • Diarrhea
  • Impotence
  • Mini strokes (transient ischemic attacks)
  • Pain in feet and legs
  • Sores that do not heal


High cholesterol is a significant cause of atherosclerosis, especially in younger people. Risk can be reduced by limiting stress, eating a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, and getting plenty of exercise. Quitting smoking can also help.

Risk Factors

An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are two of the top risk factors for arterial insufficiency. Other risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Family history of arterial insufficiency
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco use


Your diagnosis will depend on your specific symptoms and medical history, but it will start with a thorough physical examination and blood work to test your cholesterol levels. Cardiac imaging tests may also be used, including:

  • CT angiogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • MRI angiography
  • X-rays


Whatever your diagnosis, your treatment is likely to include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, increasing physical activity and eating healthier. You may be prescribed medication that can help lower your cholesterol. Surgery may also be recommended, depending on the level of plaque built up in your arteries. In severe cases of PAD, amputation may be necessary.

Follow-up Care

Your follow-up care will vary, depending on surgical intervention, but you will need regular visits to your cardiologist or primary care provider to monitor your cholesterol levels and your progress with making lifestyle changes. The multidisciplinary team of experts at Gill Heart & Vascular Institute is here to help you on your path to a healthier heart.