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What is vascular disease?

Vascular disease affects your body's blood vessels: the arteries and veins through which blood travels to the body's cells. When the body's blood vessels (called the vascular system) are not working as well as they should, the body's cells can't get all of the oxygen and nutrition they need to stay healthy.

There are several different types of vascular disease, depending on which arteries or veins are affected and what kind of problem the blood vessel is having. Some of the most common diseases affecting arteries (arterial disease) are:

  • Aneurysm – when an artery weakens, it can bulge or balloon outward. This ballooning is called an aneurysm.
    • An abdominal aortic aneurysm or thoracic aortic aneurysm affects the body's biggest artery, the aorta
    • A cerebral aneurysm affects an artery in the brain
    • Carotid artery disease – when the carotid arteries in the neck become narrowed, it reduces blood flow to the brain. If the arteries become blocked, it causes a stroke.
    • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also sometimes called PVD, or peripheral vascular disease) – this common condition occurs when fatty deposits (plaque) build up in the body's extremities, particularly the legs. PAD causes pain when walking
    • Stroke – this happens when blood flow to the brain is cut off, usually by a blockage caused by a clot. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and a top cause of long-term disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vascular disease can also affect veins, which are responsible for taking blood back to the heart from the body's tissues. Some common vein disorders are:

  • Blood clots (called venous thromboembolisms, or VTE) – clots block blood from flowing through the vein.
    • When a deep vein develops a blood clot, it's a type of VTE called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVTs usually occur in the legs.
    • Most seriously, a blood clot can break off and travel up the vein and into the lung, causing a life-threatening condition called a pulmonary embolism (PE).
    • Varicose veins – these blue or purplish, knotty or cord-like veins are visible under the skin, usually in the legs. They are caused by veins weakening and bulging out of shape.

How vascular disease is related to diabetes and hypertension

Did you know that people who have diabetes are more than twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association? Diabetes is an increasing concern, because it affects cardiovascular health.

People with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic heart disease (DHD). According to the National Institutes of Health, DHD is associated with earlier and more severe forms of heart disease, including fatty buildup in arteries (called atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis is the same condition that causes peripheral artery disease (PAD).

More broadly, diabetes often doesn't happen alone – it happens along with other risk factors for vascular disease. People with diabetes are more likely to smoke, have high blood pressure, be overweight or obese, and be physically inactive. All of those factors raise a person's vascular disease risk even more.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is very common: the American Heart Association estimates that it affects about one out of every three adults. When a person has high blood pressure, it puts the body's arteries under additional strain with every heartbeat.

Over time, the body's arteries can weaken, harden, or narrow, contributing to aneurysms, PAD and stroke.

The good news is, medication and lifestyle changes can bring both diabetes and high blood pressure under control, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

What are endovascular treatments?

Endovascular treatments are minimally invasive treatment options for some kinds of vascular disease. Rather than cutting into the body to access the blood vessel that needs repair, an endovascular procedure threads tiny hollow tubes (called catheters) up into the blood vessels and corrects the problem from inside.

To gain access to the blood vessels, the vascular surgeon makes a tiny incision, usually in the groin area, and threads the catheter through the veins to the site of the aneurysm, clot, plaque buildup, or other problem. The surgeon uses high-speed X-ray images to see inside the body and guide the catheters.

Compared to open surgical procedures, endovascular options have a lower risk of complications such as bleeding. Patients typically have much shorter hospital stays and can expect a quicker recovery with these minimally invasive approaches.

Not all patients and procedures are good candidates for endovascular treatments. Talk with your vascular surgeon about whether an endovascular approach is an option for you.

The Vascular Center at UMMC Midtown Campus provides multidisciplinary care for vascular disease, including diagnosis through our noninvasive vascular laboratory as well as a full range of treatment options, including minimally invasive surgical procedures.

To learn more or make an appointment, please call 443-552-2900. To make an appointment for diagnostic imaging in our noninvasive vascular lab, please call 410-225-8144.