What is Vascular Disease?
Vascular disease refers to abnormal conditions that affect the body’s blood vessels including the arteries, veins, and capillaries. The condition is characterized by damage or weakening of the blood vessels resulting in reduced blood flow.
Causes of Vascular Disease
Vascular disease may be caused by a variety of factors including:
- High blood pressure
- Drug abuse
- Vasculitis (inflammation in blood vessels)
- Blocks in blood vessels
- High cholesterol
- Lack of physical activity
Types of Vascular Diseases
Some of the common types of vascular diseases include:
- Atherosclerosis: In this condition, the arterial wall will be thickened and narrowed due to the deposition of fat or cholesterol that results in the formation of plaque.
- Peripheral Arterial Disease: This is a common vascular condition characterized by reduced blood flow to the limbs due to the narrowing of arteries.
- Coronary Artery Disease: This condition is characterized by the formation of plaque inside the coronary arteries that is caused due to the presence of excess cholesterol. This blocks the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart muscles.
- Raynaud’s phenomenon: This is characterized by narrowing of the blood vessels that result in discoloration and numbness in the fingers or toes. This is caused due to the constriction of the peripheral blood vessels in response to cold or stress.
- Pulmonary Embolism: In this condition, a sudden block is formed due to the presence of blood clots in the pulmonary artery that carries blood from the heart to the lungs.
- Aortic Aneurysm: This is characterized by an abnormal bulging of a part of the aorta that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to various parts of the body.
- Lymphedema: This is a chronic condition in which excess fluid gets accumulated in the tissues that impair the flow of the lymphatic system.
- Chronic Venous Insufficiency: The veins in the legs prevent the backflow of blood to the heart that is caused due to severe blood clots or varicosities.
- Fibromuscular Dysplasia: This condition is characterized by enlargement or narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the kidney and brain.
Symptoms of Vascular Disease
Symptoms of vascular disease may vary based on the specific root cause. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Leg pain or cramps
- Skin ulcers
- Swelling in the arms and legs
- Difficulty breathing
- Gangrene (Tissue death)
- Chest pain or back pain
- Discoloration of the skin in arms or legs
- Sores that do not heal in feet and toes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Restricted mobility
Diagnosis of Vascular Disease
Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and based on this a physical examination will be performed. Your doctor may also recommend the following diagnostic tests:
- Blood Test: This test helps to determine the levels of cholesterol and sugar in the blood.
- X-rays: This study uses electromagnetic beams to identify arterial wall calcifications in the body.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test records the electrical activity of the heart.
- Cardiac or treadmill stress test: This test is performed to determine the effects of exercise on the heart. This records the heart’s electrical activity while you run on a treadmill.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: This scan uses multiple x-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the heart and arteries.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan: An imaging study that uses a large magnetic field and radio waves to detect any damage to the soft tissues.
- Magnetic Resonance Angiogram (MRA): This study uses a large magnetic field and radio waves to produce images of the blood vessels.
- Ankle-brachial index (ABI): This test helps to compare the blood pressure of the ankle with the arm.
- Angiogram: This is an imaging test that uses a long, thin, flexible catheter that is passed through the bloodstream along with contrast dye to take pictures of blood flow in arteries and veins. This also detects any plaque formation within the blood vessels.
Treatment for Vascular Disease
The goal of treatment for vascular disease is to relieve symptoms and it may vary based on the root cause. Some of the common treatment measures include:
- Medications: Your doctor will prescribe medications to lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar if elevated. Blood thinners such as anti-platelet agents may also be recommended to prevent clot formation and increase blood flow.
- Lifestyle Modifications: This includes
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Quitting smoking
- Managing stress
If conservative methods failed to improve the symptoms, surgery will be recommended this includes:
- Angioplasty: This minimally invasive procedure involves placement of a catheter tube into the artery and inflating a balloon at the catheter tip to widen the narrowed lumen allowing more blood flow.
- Carotid Endarterectomy: This helps to treat narrowed arteries in the neck by surgical removal of plaque to increase blood flow in cases of carotid artery disease.
- Vascular surgery: In this technique, the damaged or narrowed blood vessels are bypassed with a graft taken from another part of the body or a synthetic graft.