The human body can be impacted by dozens of different vascular diseases and conditions. The large vascular system is the network arteries and veins through which blood is pumped to the heart, brain, kidneys, intestines, arms and legs. Problems with this network of tubes can cause a series of difficulties that range in seriousness from life-altering to minor discomforts. Michael J Willerth, M.D., UnityPoint Health helps us discover a few topics that everyone should know about vascular disease.
5 Major Risk Vascular Disease Risk Factors
“Since vascular disease can occur in many different parts of the body, there are no all-encompassing symptoms that will make a patient aware they have a vascular disease,” Dr. Willerth says.
However, there are five major risk factors that lead to vascular disease.
- Advancing age
- High blood pressure or hypertension
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 work as smoothly. Smoking damages the blood vessels, which puts tobacco users at a higher likelihood of developing vascular disease. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is an abnormally high amount of pressure within the arteries, which can lead to a series of problems. Dyslipidemia is an abnormal amount of lipids, like cholesterol or fat, in the blood, often due to lifestyle and diet. These types of abnormalities are often linked to certain vascular diseases. 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. Willerth says.
3 Types of Vascular Disease
Since there are so many vascular conditions, Dr. Willerth focuses on three diseases 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. This plaque has a risk of breaking off and travelling to the brain. It is important to know, because it’s a leading cause of stroke.
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm:
This occurs when the walls of the main blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart bulge or dilate. This type of aneurysm most commonly occurs in the abdomen near the navel. This condition is a common cause of sudden death in elderly patients.
- Lower Extremity Peripheral Vascular Disease:
This involves the narrowing of blood vessels that mainly affects arteries that provides blood to your legs. This disease is key to understand because it can cause serious symptoms and complications.
“Almost all vascular conditions are treatable, and several are completely curable. Most vascular disease does not require surgery, and contemporary treatment of many types of vascular disease is now performed with less invasive measures,” Dr. Willerth says.
Varicose veins are the most common lower extremity vascular disease. These enlarged veins can materialize anywhere in the body, but they are most common in the legs and feet. That’s because years of standing and walking increase the pressure in the veins of your lower body.
“Although many patients with varicose veins do not have symptoms, varicose veins can cause pain, swelling, bleeding, skin ulcers and be responsible for blood clots. Patients should seek evaluation by a health care provider if any of these symptoms or problems occurs, and any patient with large varicose veins should likely have an evaluation,” Dr. Willerth says.
One Final Piece of Advice
“The one piece of advice I would like to give to all patients is not to smoke and have close monitoring and treatment of their blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes,” Dr. Willerth says.
He also reiterates that the majority of vascular disease is curable, or can be successfully treated to prevent serious complications and modern day interventions are frequently less invasive and more successful than they were in the past.
If you have any questions about symptoms or treatments for any vascular disease, contact your UnityPoint Health primary care provider.