Understanding Vascular Diseases

St. Mary's Vascular Center

The vascular system—the body’s network of blood vessels like arteries, veins and capillaries—is a vastly complicated and intricate arrangement that delivers blood to and from all parts of the body. And as with the heart, the vascular system is subject to disease that can be caused by aging, infection and lifestyle choices.

Problems with the vascular system are common and can be serious. Arteries can become thick and stiff, clots can block blood flow to the brain, and blood vessels can rupture, causing bleeding inside the body.

Typically, you are more likely to encounter vascular disease as you get older. But other factors such as smoking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to your risk. Below are three of the most common and serious conditions related to vascular disease and how to treat them.

Carotid Artery Disease

The carotid arteries are two large blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood to the large, front part of the brain. Over time, an accumulation of fatty substances, plaque and cholesterol can narrow these arteries, decreasing blood flow to the brain and increasing the risk of stroke. A diet high in saturated fat, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and smoking are all factors the may contribute to this condition. If you have these risk factors and a family history of stroke, talk with your doctor about testing for carotid artery disease. Also consider a change in lifestyle habits to improve your artery health. If carotid artery disease is identified, treatment may include medication and surgery to improve blood flow by opening the artery and removing the plaque.

Peripheral Vascular Disease

This common circulatory problem is caused by narrowed arteries that reduce blood flow to the limbs and certain organs. It can be a sign of a more widespread buildup of fatty deposits in the wall of your other arteries, known as atherosclerosis. If you have this type of peripheral vascular disease, you also are at great risk for heart disease. Less commonly, peripheral vascular disease may be caused by blood vessel inflammation, injury to the limbs or even radiation exposure. Exercise and a healthy diet will help to improve the condition, but in some cases, surgery like bypass or angioplasty may be required to open vessels and restore blood flow.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an enlarging in the lower part of the aorta within the your mid-section. The aorta, which runs from the heart down to your legs, is the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the entire body. If the aneurysm ruptures, it causes life-threatening bleeding with little or no warning. The exact cause of an aneurysm is unknown, but contributing factors may include smoking, atherosclerosis or infection of the aorta. A small aortic aneurysm with no symptoms, once found, is often managed with a wait-and-watch approach. The risk of surgery in these smaller cases often outweighs the chance of the aneurysm rupturing. A medium sized aneurysm is often handled by discussing the options with your doctor and weighing the benefits of either waiting or doing surgery. In both cases, the doctor will monitor the situation with periodic ultrasounds. A large, fast growing or leaking aneurysm will require immediate treatment. This treatment often involved open abdominal surgery to repair the damaged section of the aorta, or a less invasive endovascular surgery. 

At SSM Health St. Mary’s new Vascular Center, board certified surgeons use both traditional interventions and more cutting-edge procedures like endovascular surgery to intervene and alleviate the symptoms of these and other vascular diseases. With the combination of advanced technology and experienced physician specialists, patients can be confident they are getting the best care. 

If you are suffering from a vascular disease, talk with your doctor about a referral to the St. Mary’s Vascular Center. Call 573-761-2190 for more information.

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