Get answers to the most frequently asked questions about vascular conditions.
At Desert Vein and Vascular Institute, we understand that patients may have questions about certain vascular conditions that we treat, and we want to make sure that you have all the answers you may need. Below are questions we receive most often. After reviewing these questions and answers, if you need additional information, please feel free to contact us at 760-568-3461.
Vascular Condition FAQs
According to VascularWeb.org, carotid artery disease occurs when the major arteries in your neck become narrowed or blocked. These arteries, called the carotid arteries, supply your brain with blood. Your carotid arteries extend from your aorta in your chest to the brain inside your skull. You are more likely to develop carotid artery disease as you age. Only 1% of adults age 50 to 59 have significantly narrowed carotid arteries, but 10% of adults age 80 to 89 have this problem.
Your arteries are normally smooth and unobstructed on the inside, but as you age, a sticky substance called plaque can build up in the walls of your arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, and fibrous tissue. As more plaque builds up, your arteries narrow and stiffen. This process is called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. When enough plaque builds up to reduce or disturb blood flow through your carotid arteries, physicians call this problem carotid artery disease. Carotid artery disease is a serious health problem because it can cause a stroke.
Some plaque deposits are soft and are prone to cracking or forming roughened, irregular areas inside the artery. If this happens, your body will respond as if you were injured and flood the cracked and irregular areas with blood-clotting cells called platelets. A large blood clot may then form in your carotid artery or one of its branches. If the clot blocks the artery enough to slow or stop blood and oxygen flow to your brain, it could cause a stroke. More commonly, a piece of the plaque itself, or a clot, breaks off from the plaque deposit and travels through your bloodstream. This particle can then lodge in a smaller artery in your brain and cause a stroke by blocking the artery.
Carotid artery disease may not cause symptoms in its early stages. Unfortunately, the first sign of carotid artery disease could be a stroke. However, you may experience warning symptoms of a stroke called transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs. Symptoms of a TIA usually last for a few minutes to 1 hour and include:
- Feeling weakness, numbness, or a tingling sensation on one side of your body, for example, in an arm or a leg
- Being unable to control the movement of an arm or a leg
- Losing vision in one eye (many people describe this sensation as a window shade coming down)
- Being unable to speak clearly
These symptoms usually go away completely within 24 hours. However, you should not ignore them. Having a TIA means that you are at serious risk of a stroke in the near future. You should report TIA symptoms to your physician immediately. But if you do experience the above symptoms for more than a few hours, or they don’t resolve within 24 hours, a stroke has probably occurred. Contact your physician immediately.
Yes, thoracic aortic aneurysms are serious health risks because they can burst or rupture. A ruptured aneurysm can cause severe internal bleeding, which can rapidly lead to shock or death. Some patients may have more than one TAA or may also have an aneurysm in the abdominal aorta. Only about 20% to 30% of patients who get to the hospital with a ruptured TAA survive. For this reason, it is crucial to treat large aneurysms early, in order to prevent their rupture.
You may not feel any symptoms with TAA. Very few patients with TAA notice symptoms.
If you do have symptoms, they will depend on where your aneurysm is located and how large it is. Possible symptoms include:
- Pain in the jaw, neck, and upper back
- Chest or back pain
- Coughing, hoarseness, or difficulty breathing
If your aneurysm is large and in the section of the aorta closest to the heart, it may affect your heart valves and lead to a condition called congestive heart failure.
It is critical that you notify your physician immediately if you experience any symptoms of TAA. If left untreated, these conditions may lead to a fatal rupture or organ damage. This is a life-threatening situation and you should seek medical attention immediately.
VascularWeb.org says that claudication is pain, tiredness or a weak feeling that occurs in your legs, usually during activity such as walking. The symptoms typically begin when you start to exercise, and go away a short time after you rest.
Your arteries carry blood rich with oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body. When the arteries that carry blood to your legs become narrowed or blocked, your leg muscles may not receive enough of the blood and oxygen they need to support physical activity. Physicians call this lack of oxygen ischemia. Initially, your legs may receive enough blood while you are at rest so that you do not experience any discomfort without activity.
However, your muscles need more oxygen when you exercise, so if the arteries in your legs are narrowed to the point that too little blood reaches your muscles, you may feel leg pain when you walk. Claudication, which physicians also call intermittent claudication because it happens off and on, is a serious warning symptom because people who have it are also at increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
Your arteries are normally smooth and unobstructed on the inside but, as you age, they can become blocked through a process called atherosclerosis, also called “hardening of the arteries.” As you age, a sticky substance called plaque can build up in the walls of your arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, and fibrous tissue. As more plaque builds up, your arteries can narrow and stiffen. Eventually, enough plaque builds up to reduce blood flow to your leg arteries. Physicians call this condition peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
Claudication is discomfort or pain in your legs that happens when you walk and goes away when you rest. You may not always feel pain; instead you may feel a tightness, heaviness, cramping, or weakness in one or both of your legs. Claudication often occurs more quickly if you walk uphill or up a flight of stairs. Over time, you may feel claudication at shorter walking distances, as the degree of artery blockage worsens.
Claudication is a symptom of PAD, which is caused by atherosclerosis. Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:
- High cholesterol levels in the blood
- High blood pressure
- Having a family history of heart or vascular disease
If your physician suspects that you have PAD, he or she may perform further tests, then discuss whether or not you need intervention or surgery.
If you have chronic kidney failure and need long-term hemodialysis, you may require dialysis access. You may not be a good candidate for a fistula (which your vascular surgeon constructs by joining an artery to a vein) if your veins are too small or are scarred from frequent placement of intravenous catheters (thin, flexible tubes inserted into veins to deliver medicine) or needles to draw blood. In that event, you may be eligible for a graft access procedure. You also may not be a good candidate for a fistula if your arteries are severely blocked, although they might be repairable if necessary.
Your vascular surgeon will probably be reluctant to use a graft if you have an ongoing infection since the graft itself might become infected. If this happens, the infected graft might need to be removed in order to clear up the infection.
If you have additional questions about vascular frequently asked questions, please call us now to learn more or to schedule a complimentary consultation: (760) 568-3461.