What is Vascular Disease?
Vascular disease occurs when arteries become narrow or clogged, reducing blood flow. It is commonly caused by atherosclerosis, a gradual process in which the arteries build up areas of plaque, or fatty deposits. Atherosclerosis can affect all arteries of the body, including those in the brain or carotid arteries causing stroke, in the heart causing myocardial infarction or heart attack and in the legs or arms causing peripheral vascular disease.
Vascular disease can also affect the veins in the form of blood clots, venous stasis disease or varicose veins.
Who Is At Risk?
An average of one in 20 people over the age of 50 - about eight million people in the United States - have vascular disease. Risk factors include advanced age, tobacco use, excessive weight, physical inactivity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history.
How Do I Know if I Have Vascular Disease?
The signs of vascular disease are not always obvious. Symptoms can vary depending on the type of disease - or there may be no symptoms at all.
- People with carotid artery disease may experience strokes; mini strokes; temporary blindness in one eye; numbness in the arm or on one side of the body or face; or speech problems.
- Those with peripheral vascular disease of the arteries in the legs may experience claudication, which is pain in the calves when walking or exercising that subsides when resting; cold feet; or sores on the foot or ankle that do not heal.
- Peripheral vascular disease in the arms may result in decreased pulses and numbness or tingling in the hands and fingers.
Those with peripheral vascular disease affecting the veins may experience swelling of the legs or ankles, especially at night, or pain in the affected leg or arm.
Testing is necessary to definitively diagnose vascular disease. The Vascular Laboratory at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset offers a full range of non-invasive, painless tests to promote the early detection and management of vascular disease.
If vascular disease is detected, further testing, angioplasty or surgery may be needed. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset offers a new minimally invasive procedure to treat peripheral vascular disease.
Can Vascular Disease Be Prevented?
Although some risk factors like age and genetics cannot be controlled, there are many things you can do to help prevent or reduce the severity of vascular disease. They include eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise and avoiding smoking. If you take medication for high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, it is important to follow your doctor's instructions carefully.