Collaterals are your heart’s solution to blood flow problems. Not only does your heart pump essential blood to the body, it is also a vital muscle that needs its own blood flow. There are several arteries that provide blood to the heart muscle to keep it pumping efficiently.

Cholesterol or clots can block the blood flow in arteries. This can cause trouble anywhere in the body. It is especially troublesome in your heart. When a part of the heart muscle gets no blood or too little blood, that part of the heart muscle stops functioning, and with more time, can start to die. Any time the blood supply is cut off from any part of the body, that part of the body will stop functioning.

If your heart isn’t functioning, then the blood flow to all of the rest of the body can also suffer. So, there is an amazing solution built in.

How does the heart help itself?

When an artery providing blood to the heart muscle starts to fill up, the heart starts working on a back-up plan. Around the occluded artery smaller arteries start to form. These are called collateral blood vessels (collaterals).

As the main artery gradually narrows due to cholesterol, the small arteries (collaterals) are formed to give the blood another route to get to the muscle.

You aren’t born with these smaller collateral arteries. They are formed when a decrease in blood flow to part of the heart is detected. Then, in order to keep everything functioning normally, these much smaller arteries start to form as a bypass around the big artery. This gives the blood another path to the muscle.

I find it amazing that this back-up plan exists. I am also amazed that it starts before you even realize you have a problem. It is one of the ways that the body can actually heal itself.

How will I know if my arteries are filling up?

When you have cholesterol or plaque forming in your arteries gradually, symptoms are often feeling more tired when you exercise.   You might get short of breath doing activities that used to not bother you.

Or, you might not even know it. Some people don’t know their arteries are clogged until they get chest pain or have a heart attack. This is one reason why an annual check up with your doctor is so important. Catching these things early allows them to be addressed before anything like a heart attack happens.

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