Understanding Vascular Disease

Sometimes blood vessels develop disorders that restrict the steady flow of blood. Vessels can become blocked by fatty deposits or plaque, which consists of cholesterol and fatty substances, calcium, and blood components. This process, called atherosclerosis, often develops over a period of years. Blood vessels can become swollen and painful, or the walls can become thin and possibly rupture.

Arteries and veins are the roadway through which blood is transported to all parts of the body. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away form the heart to the rest of the body. Veins return blood to the heart after oxygen has been used up.

Sometimes these blood vessels develop disorders that restrict the steady flow of blood.  Vessels can become blocked by fatty deposits or plaque, which consists of cholesterol and calcium.   This process, called atherosclerosis, often develops over a period of years.  
Blood vessels can become swollen and painful, or the walls can become thin and possibly rupture.

There are several conditions and habits that increase a person’s chance for vascular disease, many of which are controllable. The risk factors for vascular disease are the same as heart disease and include:

·         High cholesterol
·
         High blood pressure
·
         Diabetes
·
         Family history of atherosclerosis
·
         Smoking
·
         Being overweight
·
         Sedentary lifestyle
·
         Over age 50 or post-menopausal

Vascular Disease: The Straight Facts

·         An estimate 8-15 million Americans have vascular disease
·
         At least half experience no symptoms
·
         Vascular disease can reduce life expectancy by causing heart
          attacks, strokes, ruptured blood vessels or kidney failure.
·
         Vascular disease leads to about 100,000 amputations each years.
·
         Vascular disease increases the risk of developing heart disease by six
          times.

Common Forms of Vascular Disease

Vascular disease of the lower extremities is atherosclerosis in the blood vessels of the leg. When the blood supply to the leg muscles is decreased, it causes severe cramping call claudication. Typically, people with claudication are able to walk a certain distance before the cramping becomes so painful they must stop and rest. When the pain goes away and they begin to walk again, they are only able to walk the exact same distance before having to stop and rest again. A complete blockage of blood flow can result in leg ulcers that don’t heal, leg pain while at rest, or even gangrene and possible amputation.

Carotid artery disease is atherosclerosis in the arteries that carry blood to the brain. There are two carotid arteries – one on either side of the neck. Usually, plaque builds up over a period of years and can become so thick that is blocks blood flow to the brain. Also, a blood clot can break away and travel to the brain, causing a stroke or blindness.

Renal artery disease is atherosclerosis is in the arteries that carry blood to the kidneys.  Any reduction of blood flow through the renal artery can impair kidney function, cause high blood pressure (hypertension) or lead to heart failure. A complete blockage of blood flow usually causes permanent failure of that kidney.

Aortic aneurysms are a swelling or ballooning of the aorta wall where is has been thinned and weakened from atherosclerosis.  The aorta is the body’s largest blood vessel and carries blood directly from the heart down through the chest and abdomen for distribution throughout the rest of the body.

The aneurysm can be located n the chest (thoracic aortic aneurysm – TAA) or abdomen (abdominal aortic aneurysm – AAA) and often grows over a period of years. If untreated, an aneurysm will eventually rupture, which is usually fatal.

Aortic aneurysm repair or aortic aneurysm surgery is generally recommended: however, treatment options differ depending on the type of aneurysms. Abdominal aortic surgery is one option where an abdominal incision is made and the surgeon completely removes the diseased section of aorta and replaces it with a piece of synthetic tubing.

Stent-graft repair of the abdominal aortic aneurysms is available to patients who are too sick to undergo major surgery were previously untreatable. This minimally invasive procedure uses a stent-graft device – a cloth-covered metal frame – which is expanded within the aorta to alleviate pressure in the aneurysm sac and strengthen the artery wall. The procedure is performed through two small incisions in the groin area, rather than large incisions in the chest or abdomen, and uses local anesthesia.  This procedure generally requires a one-night hospital stay, compared to 7-14 days for major surgery, and has high success rates and less recovery