What Is Vascular Disease?

Doctor showing old patient usage of finger pulse oximeterVascular disease is any abnormal condition of the blood vessels (arteries and veins). The body uses blood vessels to circulate blood through itself. Problems along this vast network can cause severe disability and death.

Vascular diseases outside the heart can “present” themselves anywhere. The most common vascular diseases are stroke, peripheral artery disease (PAD), abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), carotid artery disease (CAD), arteriovenous malformation (AVM), critical limb ischemia (CLI), pulmonary embolism (blood clots), deep vein thrombosis (DVT), chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), and varicose veins.

Everyone is at risk for vascular disease. With the increase in obesity and Type II diabetes in Americans and as the population ages, vascular diseases are becoming epidemic. PAD alone affects 8.5 million people. It can occur in anyone at any time; affecting men and women equally. Atherosclerosis can begin in adolescence.

Vascular disease commonly occurs at sites of turbulent blood flow, such as when the blood flow in the arteries changes direction abruptly. The arteries below are the most common areas of turbulence:

Arch Branches

Arch Branches supply blood to the brain through the carotid arteries, and when diseased, frequently cause life threatening strokes.

Coronary Arteries

Coronary arteries supply blood to the heart and, when diseased, can block the flow of blood and cause a heart attack. This is a cardiovascular disease and is primarily managed by heart specialists – cardiologists.

Iliac Arteries

Iliac Arteries supply blood to the hips and the legs and, when diseased, cause leg pain with walking (claudication), often in both legs.

Renal Arteries

Renal Arteries supply blood to the kidneys and, when diseased, can cause high blood pressure and eventually, kidney failure.

Femoral Arteries

Femoral Arteries supply blood to the legs. If they become diseased, it may cause claudication, usually in the calf muscles. This lack of circulation can lead to continuous pain in the toes and foot, and may progress to critical limb ischemia (CLI).

You can learn more about specific vascular diseases here.
You can take steps to prevent vascular disease here.

Understanding the Vascular System

Your vascular system – the highways of the body – is composed of three types of blood vessels. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart, nourishing every part of the body. Veins carry the blood back to the heart where it is replenished with oxygen. The one exception is the pulmonary artery, which carries oxygen-poor blood from your heart to your lungs, where it exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen. The newly oxygen-rich blood gets pumped back into the heart via the pulmonary vein. Capillaries connect the arteries to the veins.

There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in the adult human body. Any problem along this vast network of blood vessels – the vascular system – can cause severe pain, disability and death.