Medically Reviewed by Christopher G. Cunningham, MD
Conditions related to vascular disease mostly have long, complicated names – carotid artery disease, transient ischemic attacks, peripheral arterial disease – and similar multi-word, multi-syllable names.
“Simply put, these terms are describing the process of blood vessels clogging up over time,” says McLeod Vascular Surgeon Dr. Christopher Cunningham. “The result is a decrease in the flow of blood to various parts of the body and brain, leading to potentially serious health problems.”
“Plaque” (plack) is the formal name of gunky material that builds up in the blood vessels. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, pregnancy, smoking, diabetes and your age and family history contribute to this plaque buildup and your risk.
When arteries become stiff and thick with gunk, the problem is called atherosclerosis (ATH-er-o-skler-o-sis).
Nearly half of us will suffer from this health problem some time in our lives and someone dies from vascular disease every 37 seconds.
If blood supply to your legs is affected, you may suffer pain when walking. Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is easily treated but, if not managed, could lead to amputation.
When the blood to your heart is affected, you may feel chest pain. Without treatment, a heart attack will strike.
Clogged arteries to the brain may lead – without warning symptoms – to a stroke, essentially the equivalent of a heart attack in the brain.
A chunk of plaque can break off and drift through your blood system. If it ends up in the lung, this pulmonary embolism can cause severe breathing difficulties or even death.
What can we do? There’s no magic to it. You can help prevent the clogging of your personal plumbing by living a healthy lifestyle:
Medication. Your physician can treat high blood pressure and cholesterol problems with a growing range of medicines. The drugs can thin the blood or dissolve the cholesterol and plaque.
Surgery. Vascular Surgeons perform a number of procedures to clear plaque-clogged blood vessels. Sometimes these procedures are performed by specially trained “interventional radiologists.”
Angioplasty involves inserting a thin tube through a small incision in the groin area. The surgeon guides it to the clogged site and expands a balloon, compressing the plaque against the wall and opening the blood flow.
Stenting involves placing a small tube in the affected area to ensure that the plaque does not grow back. These tubes can be coated with chemicals that further prevent plaque from forming.
Artherectomy opens the vessel by inserting a tube with small blades on the end. These blades pulverize the plaque, which then washes out of the system through the kidney and spleen.
Final thought. Blocked plumbing is bad for your house and your body. The consequences for your body can be life shortening or, even, life threatening. Don’t hesitate to see a physician.
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Sources: McLeod Health, Society for Vascular Surgery, American Heart Association, World Heart Federation, cardiovascularhealth.com, Vascular Disease Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Vascularcures