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September - Vascular Disease Awareness Month

September - Vascular Disease Awareness Month

August 16, 2019

As the heart beats, it pumps blood through a system of blood vessels, called the circulatory system. The vessels are elastic tubes that carry blood to every part of the body

  • Arteries carry blood away from the heart.
  • Veins return blood back to the heart.

Vascular Disease includes any condition that affects your circulatory system, such as peripheral artery disease. This ranges from diseases of your arteries, veins and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation.

The following are few conditions that fall under the category of "Vascular Disease":

Atherosclerosis and Peripheral Artery Disease

Arteries can have deposits of fat, cholesterol, and other substances on their inside walls. These deposits are known as plaque. Over time, plaque can build up, narrowing the vessel and making it hard for blood to flow. Eventually, the artery will be so narrow that your body's tissues won't get enough blood.
Depending on where it occurs, you can have different symptoms and problems. For example:

  • Blockage in coronary arteries can cause chest pain (angina) or a heart attack.
  • If it's in the carotid arteries that supply your brain, it can lead to a stroke
  • Blockage in the kidneys can lead to trouble with how they work, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and heart failure
  • A blockage in a leg can lead to leg pain or cramps when you're active - a condition called claudication; skin color change, sores or ulcers, and your legs feeling tired.

When you don't have any blood flow to a part of your body, the tissues could die. If this occurs, you may lose a limb or an organ.

Aneurysm

An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of any blood vessel. It's most often seen in the aorta, the main blood vessel leaving the heart. You can get an aortic aneurysm in your chest, where it's called thoracic aneurysm, or your belly, where it's called abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Small aneurysms generally pose no threat. But they do put you at risk for other problems:

  • Plaque deposits may build up in the aneurysm.
  • A clot may form there and then break off and get stuck somewhere else, which could be very dangerous.
  • The aneurysm might get bigger and press on other organs, which causes pain.

Because the artery wall is stretched and thinner at the spot of an aneurysm, it could burst under stress, like a balloon. The sudden rupture of an aortic aneurysm can be life-threatening.

Peripheral Venous Disease and Varicose Veins

Unlike arteries, veins have flaps inside called valves. When muscles contract, the valves open and blood moves through the veins. When muscles relax, the valves close so the blood only flows in one direction. Damaged valves may not close completely when muscles relax. This allows blood to flow in both directions, and it can pool.

Varicose veins are an example of this. They may bulge like purple ropes under your skin. They can also look like small red or purple bursts on your knees, calves, or thighs. These spider veins are caused by swollen small blood vessels called capillaries. At the end of the day, your legs might ache, sting, or swell.

More women than men get varicose veins, and they often run in families. Pregnancy, overweight, or standing for long duration can cause them.

Because the blood is moving more slowly, it may stick to the sides of the veins, and clots can form.

Blood Clots in Veins (VTE)

A blood clot in a vein, usually in your lower leg, thigh, or pelvis, is a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If it breaks loose and travels to your lungs, it becomes a pulmonary embolism (PE). These clots in your veins are called venous thromboembolisms or VTE.

They're usually caused by:

  • Conditions that slow blood flow or make blood thicker, such as congestive heart failure and certain tumors
  • Damaged valves in a vein
  • Damaged veins from injury or infection
  • Genetic disorders that make your blood more likely to clot
  • Hormones, such as estrogen from pregnancy and birth control pills
  • Long bed rest or not being able to move much
  • Surgery, especially some operations on your hips and legs

Damaged vein valves or a DVT can cause long-term blood pooling and swelling in your legs. That's called chronic venous insufficiency. If you don't do anything about it, fluid will leak into the tissues in your ankles and feet. It may eventually make your skin break down and wear away.

Lymphedema

Your lymphatic system doesn't have a pump like your blood circulation system does. It relies on valves in the vessels and muscle contractions to keep the lymph moving.

When vessels or nodes are missing or do not work right; fluid can build up and cause swelling, most often in your arms or legs. This is called lymphedema.

Who is at risk for vascular diseases?

The risk factors for vascular diseases can vary, depending on the specific disease. But some of the more common risk factors include

  • Age - your risk of some diseases goes up as you get older
  • Conditions that can affect the heart and blood vessels, such as diabetes or high cholesterol
  • Family history of vascular or heart diseases
  • Infection or injury that damages your veins
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sitting or standing still for long periods of time
  • Smoking

Steps you can take to help prevent vascular diseases:

  • Make healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and getting more exercise
  • Don't smoke. If you are already a smoker, talk to your health care provider for help in finding the best way for you to quit.
  • Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check
  • If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time.
  • If you do need to sit all day, get up and move around every hour or so.
  • If you are traveling for prolonged durations, you can also wear compression stockings and regularly stretch your legs.