The American Heart Association estimates the prevalence of cardiovascular
disease is as high as 70 percent in U.S. men and women between the ages
of 60 and 79. What’s disconcerting is that, often, these conditions
go undetected until a serious problem arises. Because women are the undisputed
family healthcare decision makers, we are engaging women this month to
raise awareness of the numerous vascular diseases and conditions that
may require clinical care by a physician or other health care professional.
Lindsay Bools, MD, Catawba Valley Vascular Surgery helps us discover a
few topics that everyone should know about vascular disease.
The expansive vascular system is your network of arteries and veins through
which blood is pumped to the heart, brain, kidneys, intestines, arms and
legs. Vascular disease can cause problems that range in seriousness from
life-altering to minor discomforts.
3 Types of Vascular Disease
Since there are so many vascular conditions, Dr. Bools focuses on three
diseases here that patients should know:
- Carotid Stenosis – this is a buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries,
which carry blood from the heart to the brain. As the plaque builds up,
there is a risk of pieces of the plaque or clot breaking off and traveling
to the brain which can cause a stroke.
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm – this is a weakening of the wall of the
artery which causes the artery to grow and dilate. Aneurysms can occur
in many different arteries, however abdominal aortic aneurysms (or AAA)
are one of the most common types of aneurysms. As these aneurysms get
bigger, they can rupture which can be a cause of sudden death especially
in elderly patients. Aneurysms generally do not cause symptoms until they
are very large or rupture which is why screening is important. Currently,
Medicare covers a one time screening for patients with a family history
of aneurysms or men over 65 who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in
their lifetime; however there are many other patients who would likely
also benefit from screening.
- Lower Extremity Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) – this involves
the narrowing of blood vessels that mainly affects arteries that provides
blood to your legs. PVD can cause a variety of symptoms including pain
in the legs with exertion (claudication), discoloration of the feet or
toes, or non healing ulcers.
“Vascular disease can occur anywhere in the body where there are
arteries and veins. The symptoms of vascular disease can mimic many other
diseases which can make vascular disease difficult to diagnosis. An important
key is to make patients aware of the risk factors for vascular disease
so that they can discuss these with their primary care provider,”
Dr. Bools says.
There are major risk factors that lead to vascular disease.
- Advancing age
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Dyslipidemia (high cholesterol or fats)
As we age, there is a higher chance we will encounter problems with the
vascular system, as the arteries become more “rigid,” and
don’t function as smoothly. Smoking damages the blood vessels, which
puts tobacco users at a higher likelihood of developing vascular disease.
High blood pressure puts added stress of the walls of the arteries, and
hyperlipidemia can cause an abnormal build up of fats and cholesterol
within the arteries. People who have diabetes are also at higher risk
of developing vascular disease because poorly controlled blood sugar levels
negatively impact the lining of the artery walls.
“Given the increasing prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes,
the prevalence of vascular disease is expected to increase in the future,”
Dr. Bools says. “The one piece of advice I would like to give all
patients is not to smoke and to encourage close monitoring and treatment
of their blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.”
The main goals for a vascular surgeon are to help treat the symptoms of
vascular disease, slow the progression of vascular disease, and reduce
the patient’s risk of developing major complications of vascular
disease. There are a variety of methods that can be used to successfully
treat vascular disease and to prevent serious complications related to
vascular disease. Modern day interventions often involve less invasive
techniques that successfully treat the patient and help avoid prolonged
hospital stays and rehabilitation. Early detection can significantly reduce
the risk for serious, sometimes disabling, or even fatal conditions like
limb loss or stroke.