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What Increases Your Risk?

The risk for developing subclavian artery disease is similar to the risk for atherosclerosis, or plaque (made up of cholesterol, fatty substances and calcium) buildup in the walls of other blood vessels of the body, such as the heart (coronary artery disease), legs (peripheral arterial disease) and neck (carotid artery disease). The following increases your risk:

  • Tobacco abuse
  • High cholesterol
  • Longstanding high blood pressure
  • Other atherosclerotic (or plaque) disease (for example CAD, PAD)
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history

On rare occasions, a bony abnormality you may have been born with can cause a blood vessel to compress (for example an extra rib). Younger age groups and some athletes are susceptible to this condition.

When to Call a Doctor

Subclavian artery disease, particularly related to the buildup of plaque, often has no symptoms. However, it's a good idea to talk with your health care professional if you have the following:

  • When you take blood pressure in your left and right arms, there is always a difference of more than 20 mm Hg in your systolic blood pressure readings (upper number).
  • You notice cramps in your arm(s) when you raise your hands above your head or perform activities with your arms raised.
  • You notice dizziness (vertigo) or vision problems when you raise your arms or perform activities with your arms raised.
  • Your hand becomes cold, pale and painful, and you have a weak pulse compared to your other arm.
  • If you have had coronary artery bypass surgery and the left internal mammary artery (LIMA) was used as a graft and you notice chest pains particularly while performing activities with your left arm. Significant blockage in the subclavian artery can cause angina with arm activity. Less blood flows down the graft because the blockage occurs before the graft.
  • Last Edited 01/31/2018