Vascular Diseases: Risk Factors and Management
There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in the adult human body. If they are straightened out at full length, they could encircle the earth several times! The whole network of these blood vessels comprises our ‘vascular system’. Any problem or abnormal condition along this vast network of blood vessels can cause a vascular disease, leading to severe pain, temporary or permanent disability and even death.
Vascular diseases arise due to the problems with the arteries, veins & vessels carrying the lymph or due to a disorder which alters the blood flow. As the vascular system is extremely complex and far-reaching, the disease can appear anywhere in the body and in many forms.
The most common types of vascular diseases include-
- Atherosclerosis and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) –Here the arteries grow thick and harden due to the accumulation of plaque. It narrows down the blood flow and reduces the circulation of blood to specific regions in the body.For instance, a 65-year-old retired man who was a smoker earlier was diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia and hypertension. Recently he complained of pain in his legs while walking which worsened during extended periods of any physical activity, thereby affecting the quality of life. With several sessions of physiotherapy not alleviating the pain, he consulted his physician. After several tests, it was seen that the man had been suffering from PAD.
- Aneurysm-It is a bulge caused in the wall of the aorta, which eventually weakens it due to a ballooning effect it creates in and around the blood vessel.
- Coronary artery disease-This happens due to the blockage in the ‘heart blood vessels’ that bring down the blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscles.
- Carotid Artery Disease-It is caused due to the narrowing or blockage of the artery due to the build-up of plaques.
- Raynaud’s Disease-For people with this disease, the effect of cold temperatures is aggravated. Exposure to even mild cold temperatures can bear significant effects like bluish or pale tinted fingers, numbness etc. The cause could be due to the underlying conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma etc.
- Blood Clotting Disorders-Some illnesses may cause blood to form clots. When a blood clot forms inside the veins or arteries, it will not dissolve on its own. It can travel through the bloodstream and lead to serious conditions.
- Varicose Veins-This is a condition where the veins get enlarged, dilated and profusely filled with blood. This condition generally causes painful swelling in the arms and legs.
- Lymphedema-This occurs due to the blockage of lymphatic vessels leading to fluid retention, causing inflammation, pain and discomfort in the arms and leg.
- Buerger’s Disease-This condition is typical to the usage of tobacco. Here the blood supply is cut off to the toes, fingers, hands and feet causing swelling and constant pain.Screening individuals with risk factors such as elevated age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a family history, diabetes, and smoking may be useful to prevent serious consequences.
Here’s what one can do to reduce the risk of a vascular disease
– Do not smoke or use any tobacco products
– Adopt healthy eating habits
– Exercise regularly
– Reduce high blood pressure
– Keep your cholesterol levels under control
– Control your blood sugar level
– Reduce stress
– Communicate your family health history to your doctor
– Get regular physical examinations from your doctor
More research is still required to define those most likely to benefit, but earlier identification of disease may improve health outcomes. As these diseases mostly depend on environment or lifestyle factors, earlier diagnosis and progressive treatment methods can be the best approach to tackle vascular diseases.