There is no easy way to unclog an artery once plaque has built up. However, dietary choices, exercise, and avoiding smoking can improve cardiovascular health and stop blockages from worsening. In some cases, medication or surgery may be necessary.

A person’s arteries can become clogged by a buildup of a substance called plaque. There are no quick fixes for melting away plaque, but people can make key lifestyle changes to stop more of it accumulating and to improve their heart health.

In serious cases, medical procedures or surgery can help to remove blockages from within the arteries. A doctor may also prescribe medication, such as aspirin, or cholesterol-reducing drugs, such as statins.

Read on to learn more about how to prevent plaque buildup. This article also discusses risk factors for clogged arteries and possible complications when someone’s arteries are clogged.

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Plaque is a mixture of fat, calcium, cholesterol, and waste from the cells in the body. This mix can stick to the walls of the arteries, making these blood vessels narrower. When this happens, it is called atherosclerosis.

Clogged or blocked arteries can stop fresh blood from reaching parts of the body, which can put a person at risk of a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.

People can prevent clogged arteries with the following lifestyle changes:

Avoiding saturated fats

The type of fat a person eats can affect plaque in the arteries. The British Heart Foundation recommends that a person limit their intake of saturated fats. This kind of fat contains high levels of LDL cholesterol, which is part of plaque in the arteries.

Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products, such as beef, pork, and dairy, but also in coconut oil and palm oil.

One 2015 review of scientific studies found there was a small but possibly important reduction in the risk of cardiovascular issues when people cut down on saturated fats and replaced them with unsaturated fats.

A 2017 review study suggests that people should avoid saturated fats because they increase LDL cholesterol in the body, which is a direct cause of heart issues.

Eating more unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats contain HDL cholesterol, which can help to take bad cholesterol from the arteries before it turns into plaque.

Consuming unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats may help improve blood cholesterol.

Unsaturated fats are mainly found in plants and fatty fish. Sources include:

  • avocado
  • olives
  • walnuts
  • some vegetable oils including sunflower and olive
  • fatty fish, including trout, herring, and salmon

Following other heart-healthy dietary tips

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people aiming to lower their LDL cholesterol eat a diet rich in:

  • whole fruits and vegetables
  • nuts
  • whole grains
  • low-fat dairy
  • fish
  • poultry

They also recommend limiting sugary foods, red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Learn more about foods to help manage clogged arteries.

Drinking herbal teas

Drinking herbal teas may be a good heart-healthy substitute for other beverages.

A 2020 review reported that green tea helped lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. However, it did not affect high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Ginger supplementation may also improve significant markers that can lead to cardiovascular events, according to a 2016 study. Ginger root can be found as a supplement, but people can also brew it in hot water, and drink it as a tea.

Learn more about herbal teas for cholesterol.

Getting enough regular physical activity

Obesity is a risk factor for plaque buildup and heart disease. In addition to eating a healthful diet, regularly exercising or getting enough physical activity may help a person to maintain a moderate weight and reduce their risk of heart problems.

Taking part in cardiovascular exercise, otherwise known as cardio, on a regular basis may also help strengthen the heart and reduce plaque.

Simple cardio activities that raise the heart rate include:

  • jogging
  • cycling
  • running
  • brisk walking
  • swimming
  • playing tennis
  • doing aerobics

It is best for a person to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of strength training per week. A doctor may recommend a specific exercise routine to fit an individual, based on various lifestyle factors.

Stopping smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and clogged arteries. It directly damages the arteries and can make fatty deposits grow faster and become larger.

A person can contact their doctor for advice if they are considering quitting smoking.

Reducing stress levels

Stress can increase the risk of atherosclerosis.

Stress-reduction techniques may help some people relax during a hectic day. Examples include:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • breathing exercises


When prevention methods are not effective, a person may need medical intervention to try and alleviate the effects of clogged arteries.

A doctor may recommend medications to lower LDL cholesterol to use alongside dietary changes. These can include statins.


A blocked artery may require surgical treatment. This could involve inserting a tube into the artery to remove the plaque while leaving behind a stent to support the artery walls and increase blood flow.

With severe blockages, doctors may perform a type of surgery called a heart bypass to make sure the blood can get around the obstructed artery.

Below is a 3-D model of atherosclerosis, which is fully interactive. You can explore this model using your mouse pad or touchscreen.

There are some risk factors for clogged arteries that people can manage themselves, including:

A person’s doctor can provide more information about risk factors for clogged arteries and advise on more ways to reduce the risk.

Without treatment, clogged arteries can lead to complications such as:

  • heart disease, which is where plaque builds up in the arteries in and around the heart.
  • angina, a condition where chest pain results from a lack of blood flow to the heart.
  • peripheral artery disease, which is where plaque builds up in the arms and legs

Taking steps to reduce the risk of clogged arteries can help to prevent complications.

Here are some frequently asked questions about clogged arteries.

What are the warning signs of clogged arteries?

Clogged arteries may not always cause any symptoms. When symptoms of atherosclerosis do occur, they can include pain in the chest, arms, and legs. A person may also experience shortness of breath, weakness, tiredness, and confusion.

At what age do arteries start clogging?

Arteries typically become more clogged over time. A person’s risk is increased after the age of 65 years.

Can you check for clogged arteries at home?

It is not possible to check for clogged arteries at home. A doctor may order blood tests and imaging tests to check for clogged arteries.

What is the fastest way to unclog your arteries?

Unclogging arteries is typically a gradual process that can happen if a person makes dietary and lifestyle changes. However, in severe cases, a doctor may recommend medical treatments.

What drink cleans arteries?

Some research suggests that herbal teas such as green tea may help treat clogged arteries. However, a person may need to make other dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as taking other preventive steps to prevent further plaque buildup.

Taking steps to prevent or slow down the formation of plaque is the best way to avoid clogged arteries at any stage in life. This will be especially helpful for a person who is at risk of plaque buildup or atherosclerosis.

Steps a person can take include choosing unsaturated fats rather than saturated fats, drinking herbal teas, getting enough physical activity, quitting smoking, and managing stress. In some cases, medical treatments may be necessary.

A doctor will be able to recommend diet and lifestyle tips tailored to an individual’s requirements and current abilities, and they can discuss any necessary treatment or prevention options.