What is vascular disease?

The vascular system is the body's network of blood vessels. It includes arteries, veins and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart. Problems of the vascular system are common and can be serious. Arteries can become thick and stiff -- a problem called atherosclerosis. Blood clots can clog vessels and block blood flow to the heart or brain. Weakened blood vessels can burst, causing bleeding inside the body.

Causes of vascular disease

Vascular disease is often referred to as a silent threat, as the symptoms of vascular disease may be sudden or may not present themselves at all. If you have any of the risk factors below, talk with your physician to see if you are a candidate for a vascular screening test, or request an evaluation.

  • Are you more than 70 years of age?
  • Are you more than 50 years of age with a history of diabetes or smoking?
  • Are you under the age of 50 with a history of diabetes and other risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure or coronary artery disease?

You are more likely to have vascular disease as you get older. Other factors that make vascular disease more likely include:

  • Family history of vascular or heart diseases
  • Pregnancy
  • Illness or injury
  • Long periods of sitting or standing still
  • Any condition that affects the heart and blood vessels, such as diabetes or high cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

Some of these are modifiable risk factors that you can control. Losing weight, eating healthy foods, being active and not smoking can help vascular disease. Other treatments include medicines and surgery.

Peripheral artery disease is the most common vascular disease

People with peripheral artery disease may not experience symptoms during the beginning stages. The most common early symptom is intermittent discomfort in the legs during activity, including:

  • Claudication (pain when walking)
  • Tightness
  • Heaviness
  • Cramping
  • Weakness

With more advanced stages of peripheral artery disease, symptoms may include:

  • Critical limb ischemia (pain in your feet or toes even when you are at rest)
  • Painful sores on your feet or toes (left untreated, these sores can become dead tissue, also known as gangrene)

Many people who have peripheral artery disease have pain in their hips, thighs or calves when engaged in physical activity. The pain often goes away when the exercise stops. This is because the leg muscles used in exercise need more blood flow, and this flow is restricted due to the arteries narrowed by the disorder.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Hair loss on the legs
  • Slow-healing sores on the lower extremities
  • Skin changes on the legs and feet
  • Pain in the toes when at rest or lying flat
  • Paleness of the legs when they are elevated
  • Reddish-blue discoloration of the extremities, and thickened or opaque toenails

Peripheral artery disease often goes undiagnosed. It is important to inform a physician if you have symptoms of peripheral artery disease, because the condition can lead to increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

What is Vascular Disease?

Dr. Michael Go discusses the common signs and symptoms of vascular disease.

What is peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease is a common disorder of the circulatory system and affects approximately 10 million people in the United States.

Why Choose Ohio State for Vascular Care

Patrick Vaccaro, MD, explains how Ohio State physicians have the training and background to treat a range of problems, including critical ischemia, aneurysms and thoracic outlet syndrome.

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