Health conditions are often obvious, but a serious vascular disease sometimes hides behind seemingly minor signs that, left untreated, can cause major health problems.
Such is the case with some artery and vein ailments like blood clots, varicose veins, carotid artery disease, aneurysms and stroke, according to vascular surgeons at Sanford Health.
The biggest cause of most vascular disease: smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.
A lot of our population smokes, which is the biggest thing that keeps people from having good health. High-fat diets and a more sedentary lifestyles all increase their blood pressure and can cause diabetes.
Part of it can be genetics, so it’s important that if family members have had strokes or aneurysms they talk to a doctor to see if they need to do anything like a screening test or lifestyle modifications to improve their chance of not having it.
Though vascular disease can strike without warning, sometimes people have vision changes or slurred speech, which indicate poor blood circulation to the head and brain through the arteries in their neck.
Besides a healthy lifestyle, regular heart and vascular screenings can help avoid more serious trouble down the road. Sometimes with poor circulation to the head, a screening will show blood moving faster through arteries, which could indicate a blockage.
Vascular surgery is preventative medicine, so we can take out a plug or put in a stent in before it causes trouble.
A stroke happens when there’s a lack of oxygen to the brain. Every body cell needs oxygen to survive. When there’s a blockage in the head or neck or arm, that creates a lack of oxygen.
The brain is the control center for the body, so when there’s a lack of blood flow to it, people can’t get words out, they can’t move part of their body. Sometimes piece of plaque breaks off and goes into the eye. These are all signs that’s there’s a lack of oxygen to the brain.
Some people have a mini stroke and that can be an early warning sign of a bigger stroke in the future, which could include facial drooping that goes away. If they have that, we’d want to see them immediately.
Hardening of the arteries
Arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a big chunk of the vascular disease practice. Once you have it, you don’t ever get rid of it, and we like to keep an eye on it. When we see this, we can do lifestyle modifications.
Sometimes it shows up as cramps in the legs when walking because of a lack of oxygen. If they’re a smoker, we start a cessation and graduated walking program, so they get out there and move the legs and build up circulation.
Medications can help with leg pain and hopefully all these things help them avoid losing a limb through amputation. Sometimes we do surgery to pull out the plaque in their arteries to keep it from breaking off or we do a stent to keep the blood flowing.
An abdominal aneurysm is a silent killer.
It will often show up when they have a computed tomography (CT) scan or wellness exam. If they have back, groin or abdominal pain, a history of smoking or a family member who’s had an aneurysm, it may be an indication that they have an expanding aneurysm.
The best thing to do is go in and see if it needs to be fixed.
Some people consider varicose veins an aesthetic issue only, but they can itch, burn, break open and bleed. They can also cause leg swelling and heaviness.
We have to try to figure out what’s causing the varicose vein. Sometimes we can use compression stockings, have the patient elevate the legs or eventually offer an oblation where you close down that vein and shut down extra blood that’s pooling in the leg.
If left untreated, it can also lead to bigger problems like amputation.
This is actually more of a nerve issue, but Sanford Health’s vascular surgery team does treat it.
In general, some people have issues with sweating. We can evaluate them to see if there’s anything from a medical standpoint that can be done. If it can’t be controlled medically or through lifestyle changes, there are some some surgical options that might help.
More vascular disease stories
- Strokes: 5 surprising facts about who’s at risk
- Sugar: The villain of heart health
- Heart screenings protect against disease, save lives