Vascular Disease

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The heart is arguably one of the most vital organs in the human body. The heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. As the heart pumps blood, it nourishes the body with rich oxygenated blood and carries carbon dioxide to the lungs and out of the body.

The heart pumps blood through a system of blood vessels called the circular system, also known as the cardiovascular or vascular system. This organ system circulates the blood vessels, which contain nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones, and blood cells to and from our cells in our body. This provides nutrients, helps your body to fight off diseases, and helps to maintain your body. The vessels are elastic tubes that carry blood to every part of the body. Arteries carry blood away from the heart while veins return it.

As we get older, the blood flow to our extremities, especially to the lower extremities, is not as efficient for various reasons, like plaque build-ups that will induce and cause various diseases. Peripheral vascular disease includes any condition that affects the circulatory system. Vascular disease ranges from diseases of your arteries, veins, and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation. In addition, Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a condition where blood vessels outside the heart and brain can spasm, narrow, or become blocked.

The following are conditions that fall under the category of vascular disease.

Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are benign masses that grow on the outside or in the wall of the uterus. Fibroids press on the endometrial lining causing irritation and bleeding that can cause severe symptoms such as pain, cramping, and heavy menstrual bleeding. Women that experience severe fibroid symptoms often do not wish to wait to see if the fibroids disappear during menopause.

Uterine Fibroids

Varicocele

A varicocele is an enlargement of the veins within the scrotum, similar to a varicose vein that can occur in the legs or in the female pelvic area. The resulting backup causes the veins to widen (dilate) which leading to mild to severe pain in the scrotal area and possibly damage to the testicle.

Varicocele

Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Chronic Venous insufficiency (or peripheral venous disease) is a condition in which the valves inside the veins cannot close completely as they help to guide blood back towards the heart. When the valves fail, blood flows in both directions causing swelling, pooling of blood, skin discoloration, and bulging of the veins under the skin.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Varicose Veins

Closely related to chronic venous insufficiency, varicose veins are enlarged veins that are visible through the skin. The veins often appear bulging or twisted and are generally larger than three millimeters in diameter. Varicose veins affect one out of two people over the age of 50, and women who have had children are particularly susceptible.

Varicose Veins

Non-healing Ulcers

Non-healing wounds are often caused by problems with the circulation in the arteries or veins. Wounds around the foot and heel may result from the build-up of plaque in the arteries stopping blood from reaching the area that needs healing. Similarly, the swelling and backwards flow of blood in the veins cause intense pressure on the skin leading to wounds on the legs and ankles.

Non-healing Ulcers

Pelvic Venous Congestion (PVCS)

Pelvic venous congestion syndrome, also known as ovarian vein reflux, leads to chronic pelvic pain is in the lower abdomen often caused by dilatation of the ovarian and/or pelvic veins (rather like varicose veins, but in the pelvis). This causes the blood to pool resulting in enlarged, bulging and knotty veins inside the pelvic area.

Pelvic Venous Congestion (PVCS)

Pelvic and Labial Varicose Veins

Pelvic varicose veins and labial varicose veins are forms of venous insufficiency in which women's pelvic, labial, or vulvar veins become enlarged and dilated during pregnancy and continue after the baby has been delivered. The primary problem is reflux (abnormal reversal of flow) in the veins of the deep pelvis through veins near the vagina into the labia and surrounding tissues.

Pelvic and Labial Varicose Veins

Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT)

Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) A DVT is the formation of a blood clot (thrombus) in the deep veins, most commonly occurring in the legs. This thrombus disrupts the normal flow of blood from the legs or arms back to the heart. The clot could move to your heart or lungs causing serious and sometimes fatal complications. A suspected DVT must be diagnosed and treated immediately.

Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT)

Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral Arterial DiseasePeripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) develops when the arteries in the legs build up plaque, obstructing and narrowing the arteries and preventing blood, oxygen, glucose from flowing properly to tissue. This lack of blood-flow causes pain, cramping, and swelling in the legs as the muscles and tissue starve for blood and if untreated, can lead to amputation of the toes and/or foot.

Peripheral Arterial Disease

What is Vascular Disease?

Vascular disease, also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), is a condition that affects blood circulation. This disorder causes various blood vessels outside the brain and heart to block, narrow, or spasm. Peripheral vascular disease can affect either veins or arteries.

Typically, vascular disease can often cause fatigue and pain. The pain is usually accumulated in the legs, especially when exercising or actively on your legs when walking or working. However, the pain can subside after resting.

However, peripheral vascular disease is not limited to the legs. The condition may also affect blood vessels tasked with supplying oxygen to various parts of the body. These include blood vessels to the intestines, stomach, kidneys, and arms.

Patients suffering from peripheral vascular disease experience narrowing blood vessels, consequently decreasing blood flow to certain parts of the body, particularly in the lower extremities. This can be caused by the hardening of arteries, also known as arteriosclerosis. In some cases, PVD can also be caused by blood vessel spasms.

In the case of arteriosclerosis, plaques accumulate in the blood vessel and reduce the flow of oxygenated blood to the limbs and other organs. When not managed in good time, the plaque buildup continues and may lead to blood clots, which could block the arteries completely. Consequently, this blockage may lead to organ damage and the loss of toes, fingers, and limbs. This highlights the importance of getting treatment for the vascular disease as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more adverse the effects may be.

Vascular disease is sometimes referred to as a peripheral arterial disease, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, the key difference between peripheral vascular disease and peripheral arterial disease is that the latter only affects arteries –that carry oxygen-rich blood to various organs from the heart.

Statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reveal that about 20% of people develop the peripheral arterial disease. PAD is the most common condition of PVD. However, other terms used to define the condition include:

• Arterial insufficiency of the legs
• Intermittent claudication
• Arteriosclerosis obliterans
• Non-healing Ulcers

There are numerous risk factors linked to PVD. Some of the top risk factors include:

  • Age – people over 50 years stand a higher risk for PVD
  • Obesity and Being Overweight
  • Having Irregular Cholesterol
  • Previous Heart Disease Incident
  • Diabetes
  • Hemodialysis and Kidney Disease
  • Familiar ties to high cholesterol, PVD, or high blood pressure
  • Pregnancy
  • A History of Strokes and other Cardiovascular Diseases

Lifestyle choices can also increase your chances of suffering from vascular disease. Some of the notable lifestyle choices contributing to PVD include:

  • Smoking
  • Poor Dietary Habits
  • Drug Use
  • Lack of Physical Exercise

In most cases, the symptoms of the vascular disease start slowly or irregularly, then get more intense with time and lack of medical intervention. At the start, you may feel more tired than usual and experience cramping. The pain usually gets worse with exercise due to blood flow constrictions.

Other symptoms linked with vascular disease differ depending on the affected areas. Some of the specific symptoms include;

  • Legs – Cramps when lying down and reduced hair growth
  • Legs and arms – Discoloration and turning pale or reddish-blue
  • Legs and feet – Weak pulses, pale and thin skin, chronic ulcers and wounds
  • Toes – Severe burning sensation, thick and opaque toenails, and a general blue discoloration

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical intervention. Unfortunately, most of these symptoms get brushed aside as a result of old age. However, delayed care and attention only worsen the situation, and in extreme cases, you may contract gangrene and blood loss.

The other common symptom associated with vascular disease is claudication. This is a distinguishable lower limb muscle pain, especially when you’re walking. At times, the pain may intensify when you walk for long and fast. However, after some time or rest, the pain can go away or gradually reduce. Claudication happens when there isn’t enough flow of blood to the muscle.

As the vascular disease progresses, the symptoms could get worse and become more frequent. Eventually, fatigue and pain can become more common, even when you’re resting. If you notice any of these symptoms, get a vascular surgeon or specialist opinion and get the right treatment to reduce pain and improve blood flow.

If the peripheral vascular disease is not treated or managed, it can get serious and, in some cases, life-threatening. Additionally, the restriction of blood flow to the body can be a warning of serious vascular disease progression.

Some of the top health complications of PVD include:

  • Pale skin
  • Tissue death that may lead to amputation
  • Pain with movement and when resting
  • Chronic open wounds
  • Severe pain making it hard to walk
  • Life-threatening toxicities in the bloodstream and bones

In serious complications affecting arteries bringing blood to the brain and heart, the arteries can get clogged, leading to stroke, heart attack, and even death.

Early diagnosis of peripheral vascular diagnosis is the first step to effective treatment. Moreover, early detection and management can help prevent life-threatening complications. Let your doctor know immediately you start experiencing any typical symptoms of vascular diseases, such as claudication.

The healthcare professional may inquire about your medical history for a proper diagnosis before performing any physical exam. Usually, the physical test includes measuring pulses in your limbs. If there’s a swooshing sound after a stethoscope search, it likely means you have certain narrowed vessels.

Additionally, to get specific results, the doctor could also order several other tests. Some of these are;

  • A Doppler ultrasound to monitor the flow of blood in the vessels
  • An angiography to diagnose any clogged arteries
  • A CT scan to show images of blood vessels and diagnose a blockage
  • An ankle-brachial index to compare blood flow from various limbs

There are two main objectives when considering peripheral vascular disease (PVD) treatment. These include stopping the disease from further progression and managing the symptoms and pain so you can be active. Moreover, PVD treatment significantly reduces the risk of serious complications.

The initial treatment for PVD involves making lifestyle changes. For example, the healthcare professional may recommend regular exercise, losing weight, and a proper diet.

Additionally, if you smoke tobacco, you should quit as it directly reduces blood flow. Smoking also worsens PVD and could lead to stroke and heart attack.

If the first line of treatment fails, or if the PVD has already progressed, then the doctor may suggest medication such as;

  • Pentoxifylline or cilostazol to boost blood flow
  • Daily aspirin or clopidogrel to lower chances of blood clot formation
  • Diabetes medication to regulate blood sugar
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE) to regulate blood pressure
  • Simvastatin, Atorvastatin to lower cholesterol

In cases where there’s significant artery blockage, treatment options may include surgery or angioplasty. The surgery helps open up clogged arteries and get your blood flowing efficiently.

You can lower your chances of developing the vascular disease by;

  • Avoiding tobacco smoking, chewing, and intake
  • Controlling blood sugar for those with diabetes
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a proper diet and reducing unhealthy fat intake
  • Regular exercise and working out