Vascular disease is a broad term that describes a number of conditions of the circulatory system that affect millions of Americans each year.
According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, “Sometimes people who have potentially threatening vascular disease may not be aware of its presence because warning symptoms have not yet developed. For this reason, vascular screening is used as a method to detect the presence of serious vascular disease in the general population before it has a chance to cause harm.”
Vascular diseases range from diseases of the arteries, veins and lymph vessels, to blood disorders that affect circulation. When disease occurs in the arteries, less blood is delivered to the tissues, reducing the oxygen and nutrients needed by the tissues of the body. Types of vascular disease include coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and peripheral vascular disease (PVD).
Diagnosis of vascular disease is made on the basis of your medical history and symptoms, but generally begins with a physical exam. Your healthcare provider will begin by checking for weak pulses in the legs. Your physical examination may also include the following:
- Ankle-brachial index (ABI): the ABI is a painless exam that compares the blood pressure in your feet to the blood pressure in your arms to determine how well your blood is flowing. This inexpensive test takes only a few minutes and can be performed by your healthcare professional as part of a routine exam. Normally, the ankle pressure is at least 90 percent of the arm pressure, but with severe narrowing it may be less than 50 percent. If there is an abnormal difference between the blood pressure of the ankle and arm, you may require more testing. Your doctor may recommend one of the following tests:
- Doppler and Ultrasound (Duplex) imaging: is a non-invasive method that visualizes the artery with sound waves and measures the blood flow in an artery to indicate the presence of a blockage.
- Angiography: This procedure is generally reserved for use in conjunction with vascular treatment procedures. During an angiogram, a contrast agent is injected into the artery and X-rays are taken to show blood flow, arteries in the legs and to pinpoint any blockages that may be present.
How should a patient prepare for a vascular screening?
- Write down any symptoms you’re experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to your condition.
- Write down key personal information, including a family history.
- Make a list of all medications, including OTCs (over-the counter), vitamins and supplements that you’re taking.
- Write down questions you want to ask the doctor. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. Some basic questions to ask include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms?
- What are other possible causes for my condition?
- What kinds of tests will I need?
- What are the risks and benefits of the tests and the treatment plan you recommend?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you’re suggesting?
- Are there any diet or activity restrictions that I need to follow, either for the tests or the treatment?
- Should I see a specialist, and if so can VCU Baird Vascular Institute recommend a specialist?
- What is the cost of the tests and the treatments?
- Does insurance usually cover the tests and treatments? (You will need to ask your insurance provider directly for specific information about coverage.)
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me?
- What websites do you recommend visiting for more information about my condition?