What is vascular disease, and who’s at risk?
Signs, symptoms and how to lower your risks
“Our arteries carry blood full of oxygen and nutrients away from the heart, while veins carry the blood back to the heart after its oxygen and nutrients have been used,” says Dr. Jeremy Irvan, a vascular surgeon at Geisinger Pottsville and Geisinger Medical Center. “Capillaries are the smallest blood vessel, which help transfer the nutrients from the blood into the tissue.”
This system of pathways is known as our vascular system, and issues within it are known as vascular diseases. Vascular diseases can appear both within the heart—more commonly known as cardiovascular diseases—and outside of the heart.
“The most common vascular diseases include stroke, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA),” explains Dr. Irvan. “And most are more commonly seen in men than women.”
Here’s what you need to know about the most common vascular diseases, their risk factors and how you can keep an eye on the risks for the men in your life.
What does vascular disease mean?
- Strokes are one of the most common types of vascular diseases, especially for aging Americans. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is stopped because of a blockage in the arteries or a broken blood vessel. Decreased blood flow means brain cells will not receive enough oxygen and begin to die.
Though one in five patients fully recover from a stroke, patients are also at risk for permanent brain damage or death.
Strokes are more common in men up to age 75, but women between the ages of 75 to 84 outpace men.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD) and coronary artery disease (CAD) occur when fat deposits, cholesterol or other toxins build up in the arteries. Over time, blockages can narrow the arteries until your tissues aren’t receiving enough blood. PAD affects peripheral arteries which supply blood to the extremities and most organs of the body, while CAD affects coronary arteries that directly supply blood to the heart.
“Depending on the location of the blockages, they can cause failure in any of the major organs including your heart, brain and kidneys,” says Dr. Irvan. “This is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.”
- An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) and peripheral aneurysms occur when the wall of an artery becomes weak and bows outward, increasing the risk of an artery to break or rupture. Aortic aneurysms are also commonly hereditary, making a thorough family history important. AAA are most commonly found in men over the age of 60 who have a history of smoking.
“They can appear in almost any artery, but it’s possible to not even know you have an aneurysm,” says Dr. Irvan. “Symptoms include pain in the area, weakness, clammy skin, dizziness, nausea and sudden collapse.”
“Elevated risk for nearly all vascular diseases comes from lifestyle and hereditary factors,” notes Dr. Irvan. “If you have diabetes, emphysema, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, obesity or high blood pressure, you are more likely to damage your blood vessels.” A sedentary lifestyle and smoking habit also increase risks.
“Taking stock of your family history can help you assess your risk for vascular disease later in life,” adds Dr. Irvan.
If you have a history of stroke, varicose veins or PAD, it is time to speak to a vascular surgeon about your vascular condition. Geisinger’s vascular disease specialists are highly experienced and have access to the most advanced technology, genetic research and testing capabilities.
If your parents or relatives have a history of stroke, varicose veins or PAD, it might be time to speak to your primary care provider about artery mapping and screening with ultrasound testing in a high quality vascular laboratory for proper evaluation.
For a referral to a caring Geisinger vascular surgeon, call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.