Vascular disease is an abnormal condition of the blood vessels. Blood vessels (arteries and veins) are the tubes that pump blood throughout the body. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to nourish every part of the body, including the brain, kidneys, intestines, arms, legs and heart itself. Veins carry the blood back to the heart. Problems along this vast network of blood vessels, called the vascular system, can cause severe disability and death.
Vascular disease commonly occurs at sites of turbulent blood flow, such as when the direction of blood flow in the arteries changes abruptly. The figure illustrates sites in the arterial system where this change in direction of blood flow occurs.
Arch Branches supply blood to the brain through the carotid arteries, and when diseased, frequently cause life threatening strokes.
Coronary arteries supply blood to the heart and, when diseased, can block the flow of blood and cause a heart attack. This is a cardiovascular disease and is primarily managed by heart specialists – cardiologists.
Iliac Arteries supply blood to the hip and the legs and, when diseased, cause leg pain with walking (claudication), often in both legs. Renal Arteries supply blood to the kidneys and, when diseased, can cause high blood pressure and eventually, kidney failure.
Femoral Arteries supply blood to the legs. If they become diseased, it may cause claudication, usually in the calf muscles. This lack of circulation can lead to continuous pain in the toes and foot, and may progress to the development of gangrene.
Vascular disease affects the entire body and includes stroke, peripheral artery disease (PAD), abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), carotid artery disease (CAD), arteriovenous malformation (AVM), critical limb ischemia (CLI), pulmonary embolism (blood clots), deep vein thrombosis (DVT), chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), and varicose veins.
Everyone is at risk of vascular disease, and nearly 1 out of 2 people will suffer from it in his or her lifetime. With the increase in obesity and Type II diabetes in Americans and as the population ages, it is estimated that by 2024 vascular disease will take the lives of over two million Americans each year.