Why you should talk to your doctor about PAD

PAD, or peripheral artery disease, affects about 8 million Americans. It can start as early as the age of 20, and becomes more common as one gets older. By age 65, about 12 to 20 percent of the population has some degree of vascular disease. Early diagnosis is critical, as people with PAD have a four to five times higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, PAD often goes undiagnosed as symptoms are often mistaken for something else.

So how do you know if you’re at risk for PAD? “Unfortunately, with PAD, sometimes there are factors that the patient can control and sometimes not. Sometimes it runs in the family and your risk factors are genetic,” said Dr. Jeffrey Elbich. “Other risk factors include advanced age, male gender, smoking, especially those with a long smoking history, and people with other medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension.”

Dr. Elbich explained some symptoms to watch out for. “A typical patient will describe walking for a few block and being affected by sudden painful cramps in the legs and thighs that resolve after a period of rest.” He continued, “For every one person who has symptoms, there are three to four who have no symptoms at all. If you have some of the risk factors we just mentioned, it’s important to talk to your doctor and be screened.”

The screening involves a review of the patient’s medical history and any symptoms, followed by a physical exam. “You physician will preform an ABI, or ankle brachial index which measures the blood pressure in your arms, compared to the blood pressure in your ankles,” said Dr. Elbich. “If it’s significantly different, that indicates a blockage in your legs and is indicative of PAD.”

Many peripheral vascular conditions can be diagnosed and treated on an outpatient basis by the interventional radiologists and vascular surgeons here at VCU Baird Vascular Institute. If you want to learn more about peripheral artery disease and treatment options, wish to discuss symptoms or problems you may be experiencing or if your doctor has recommended that you see us for a vascular test, please contact us at (804) 828-2600.

Port Care 101 – 5 things you need to remember

Many conditions, such as cancer treatment, long-term IV medication or kidney dialysis, require frequent or constant access to your veins. Repeated injections in the same area can be hard on you and hard on your veins. That’s why we specialize in placing vein access ports that make your care, and your life, easier.

There are a few things you should keep in mind if you’ve had a port procedure.

First, make sure to follow all the detailed instructions that were given to you for taking care of the catheter of port.

Secondly, take extra precautions avoid touching the tip of the catheter and always wash your hands before touching the area for bandage changes or cleaning. Also, it is ok to ask the nurse or any medical professional that is accessing your port to wash their hands in front of you and to always wear gloves.

Watch out for any sign of infections like redness or swelling or other issues such as leaks or blockages. Notify your physician immediately if you experience any of those issues.

Don’t be afraid to contact your physician if you have a question. We specialize in placing a wide variety of vein access devices and are here to address your concerns.

Finally – live your life. Having a port is supposed to make your life a little easier while undergoing treatment. With a few modifications, you can expect to resume relatively normal activities during this period of treatment.

To share or not to share? Social media and your cancer diagnosis.

VCU Baird Social Media Cancer

There is very little information in today’s world that can’t be found by a few strokes of a keyboard. Information is literally at our fingertips in an instant. Social media feeds expose us to additional sources of information and opinion that we might not otherwise seek out. Social media also allows us to instantly share information across our broad network of friends and family.

When you receive the diagnosis of cancer, it is overwhelming. Most people need time to absorb the news and consider the implications of their diagnosis on their life, their family and their friends. Once the initial shock passes, many struggle with how to, or whether they should, share their cancer diagnosis beyond those in their immediate circle.

Sharing your diagnosis is a deeply personal choice. Some people live their life as an open book, and the cancer diagnosis is simply another chapter that they share as any other bit of news. Some people are more private, preferring to keep such details of their life out of everyday conversation.

Social media brings another element into the decision. Information can spread immediately, and whether or not you choose to keep your diagnosis private, there are a few things to consider.

If you’re requesting privacy, be sure to let any friends and family know that you prefer the news stay out of the social world. Some people send prayer requests or other updates without meaning any harm, but still expose your private situation to the eyes of others, prompting questions.

If you choose to share your journey on social media, be prepared for the inevitable questions and notifications from your friends and followers. Choosing to share such information has benefits and disadvantages. Sharing your condition may help dispel rumors. You benefit from supporters and their positive messages, you may find new information about treatments and clinical trials, and form bonds with survivors and other cancer patients.

“When my mother recently was diagnosed with cancer we shared as a way to stay connected to so many people,” said Shelley Hartmann, daughter of a breast cancer survivor. “The more prayers you have, I believe, does help you get better. It did help to stay connected, as we found so many other people that had similar situations, and it was a way for my mother to talk to them and discuss different treatments, etc.,” she added.

Keep in mind, however, that sharing your diagnosis may mean personal questions from well-meaning friends and family regarding your symptoms, treatments, prognosis and other information.

Also, once you have chosen to share the information, it can’t be taken back. You may choose to stop communicating about it, but the news is still out there, and your friends and followers will, naturally, continue to be concerned about your health. Be certain of your decision.

For those who are somewhere in the middle of an open book and intensely private, some social media platforms allow you the option to share information with only a select group of contacts, which may be more comforting for some, rather than broadcast their news to their entire friend or follower group. If you don’t know how to restrict your information to certain groups, ask a social media proficient friend or family member to help you set up this option.

Navigating the frontier of personal news in the age of social media can be a big decision with many implications. When it comes to sharing a cancer diagnosis, there’s no right or wrong choice. Only you can decide if your social network will be an additional unwanted burden or provide support and comfort during your journey.

5 Symptoms of Vascular Disease

Baird vascular leg pain

Vascular medicine and surgery primarily focuses on diseases and disorders of the peripheral vascular system: feet, hands, legs and arms. The health of the peripheral vascular system has a major impact on the health of your overall circulatory system and your overall health, and a vascular screening can reveal the first signs of more serious problems, which is why we offer comprehensive screenings to all our patients.

When your heart beats, it pumps blood back and forth through a complex system of vessels, called the circulatory, or vascular system. These arteries and veins, ranging from very large to microscopic, are elastic tubes that carry the blood to and from every part of the body. The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood from the lungs through arteries, and veins carry the blood back to the heart into the lungs, which remove CO2 and other waste from the blood and replenish it with fresh oxygen. This cycle supplies all the muscles, organs and tissues of the body with the oxygen and nutrients they need to work.

Vascular disease can cause these vessels to narrow, harden, swell, form blood clots or get partially or entirely blocked. When this happens, the tissues fed by these vessels are robbed of the oxygen and nutrients. Sometimes pain in the affected area will signal a problem. At other times, vascular disease shows few symptoms as it worsens over time, sometimes with serious consequences.

Although usually associated with older people, vascular disease can affect almost anyone and may present itself in all areas of the body.

Vascular diseases range from diseases of the arteries, veins and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation. Among the most common types of vascular disease are peripheral vascular disease (PVD), peripheral artery disease (PAD) and coronary artery disease. The terms peripheral vascular disease and peripheral artery disease are often used interchangeably. Many of the problems we diagnose and treat involve peripheral vascular disease in one degree or another.

Some symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

  1. Cramping and pain in the legs and buttocks, indicating poor circulation in the legs.
  2. Fatigue, heaviness and discomfort during exercise or activity that generally goes away when the activity stops or you are resting. This is called “intermittent claudication.”
  3. Leg pain that does not go away when you stop exercising
  4. Foot or toe wounds that don’t heal or heal very slowly
  5. A decrease in the temperature of your lower leg or foot, particularly compared to the other leg or the rest of your body.

If you want to learn more about peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and treatment options, wish to discuss symptoms or problems you may be experiencing or if your doctor has recommended that you see us for a vascular test, please contact us at (804) 828-2600 or email us.

Maintaining optimum health during dialysis

If you are starting hemodialysis treatments in the next several months, one crucial step before starting regular hemodialysis sessions is preparing a site on the body to access the vein. Dialysis access is the site on your body where blood is removed and returned during dialysis. To maximize the amount of blood cleansed during hemodialysis treatments, dialysis access should allow continuous high volumes of blood flow. There are three access options for the dialysis patient – AV fistula, AV graft or a central venous catheter.

To allow for the high volume of blood exchanged, dialysis access to your blood is usually in your arm or leg. Choosing your access is a decision that you and your doctor will make. We discuss the AV fistula, AV graft and central venous catheter options in this blog post.

As with any serious medical condition, you’ll need to make a few lifestyle changes while undergoing dialysis.

One of the most important changes for dialysis patients is diet. Maintaining a healthy diet during dialysis is essential to good health and shorter dialysis time. Toxins in unhealthy foods make the body produce more waste, resulting in longer dialysis treatments. The National Kidney Foundation has a great blog post from a dialysis patient who mastered her dialysis diet. You can read her post here.

Even though you may not always feel up to it, maintaining some form of exercise is still important. The combination of your kidney disease, and sitting for frequent, long periods of time during dialysis can expedite deterioration of your overall physical health. According to a program launched last summer in Australia, “Exercise has been shown to improve physical function, quality of life, muscle condition and the dialysis treatment in patients with kidney disease, as well as decreasing depression, cardiovascular risk and a range of other negative outcomes of kidney disease.”

Finally, mental health contributes to an overall sense of well-being. It’s normal to be concerned or overwhelmed with your diagnosis, but if you need to seek out professional help to sort through your feelings, do it. Try to stay as active and involved in your normal day to day activities as you can.

If you’d like more information about choosing your access site, please give us a call at (804) 828-2600 to discuss your options.

Traveling while undergoing cancer treatment

Baird traveling with cancer

The summer travel season is upon us, and many are planning vacation time to beaches, or the mountains, or destinations beyond with family and friends. If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, it’s no different; you need time to recharge from the day-to-day stresses of life, and especially your medical condition. When undergoing cancer treatment, there are a few extra precautions and considerations for the traveler, but that shouldn’t stop you from traveling or enjoying a vacation away from home. Careful planning can ensure you have a great – yet safe – experience.

First, get the OK from your medical team before making any travel plans. You’ll want to talk about the location, how you plan to get there, and how close you’ll be to a medical facility in the event of an emergency. Depending on your condition, proximity of a treatment center may factor in on your vacation destination. It’s important to include family members or other travel companions in these conversations so they can be informed and feel comfortable about traveling with you.

Secondly, consider how you’re going to get there. Some people with cancer may not be able to travel by plane because of the changes in oxygen levels and air pressure that occur during the flight. Changes in air pressure can sometimes cause swelling in your extremities, which could be problematic for a person with cancer. Also, sitting for long periods of time can put anyone at risk for a blood clot, but it’s even more of a concern for someone with cancer. Also, if you’re receiving chemotherapy, your immune system is compromised, making traveling through airports and sitting in crowded planes a risky endeavor.

If you are well enough to travel by plane, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some forms of radiation used for radiological exams and treatment may trigger airport radiation detectors. Some chemicals used may linger in the body for up to 3 months. If you plan to fly after such an exam or treatment, ask your doctor for a letter that identifies the procedure, the type and amount of radioactive material used, the date of the procedure, and the likely duration of detectable radioactivity. Be sure to carry this letter with you when you travel.

When booking your flight – plan ahead so that you can have seats with extra legroom if you need it, or ensure that your travel companion can be seated next to you. Also, notify the airline in advance if you think you may need oxygen.

Research your destination and locate a cancer center, and emergency center far ahead of time, just in case something goes wrong. If those aren’t available, (if you’re on a cruise, for example), notify the staff where you’re staying of your condition to help facilitate their cooperation in the event of an emergency.

Check your insurance policy to see if treatment away from your normal care center is included. You may want to consider a short-term travelers policy for additional piece of mind.

Make sure you have written documentation for on your condition, treatment regimen, and medications, and keep it with you. This is also important if you have an IV port or other internal device so you have documents to show security screeners. You also might consider getting a medical alert bracelet. If you require syringes for medication or portable oxygen tanks, you may need a note or form signed by your doctor for these items to be allowed on a plane.

When planning, keep in mind that certain destinations require vaccinations prior to entry. Speak with your physician about whether or not this is something your body will tolerate with other medications you are on, or with a weakened immune system.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take it easy and enjoy the moment. Don’t overdo sightseeing or shopping excursions and listen to your body when it’s telling you it needs rest. Relax – and enjoy!

Safe sun tips for outdoor lovers

Baird Outdoor lovers

A few weeks back, we wrote about minimizing skin cancer risks. These were great basic tips for everyone. But what if you’re someone who truly lives to be outdoors – hiking, running, kayaking, skiing, ice fishing – all of it? Scorching sun? No problem. Below freezing? Bring it. How do you enjoy all the outdoor activities you love, while still protecting your skin?

Here’s the obvious first answer – sunscreen. Apply early, liberally and often. If you’re going to be in the water, use one with a higher water resistance.

Beyond that, remember to wear sunglasses. The sun can do damage to your eyes as well as your skin. Wearing sunglasses helps protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays, and also the sensitive skin around your eyes. Choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays. Sunglasses aren’t just for sunny days either, remember to wear them on overcast days, especially any time you’re on or near the water to protect your eyes from reflected light.

Lightweight, long sleeved fabrics, also provide great protection from the sun. Also gaining popularity are fabrics and outdoor clothing with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating. A UPF rating is specifically for apparel, and like sunscreen’s SPF rating, the higher the UPF rating, the more effective the garment is in protecting you from the sun. Many manufacturers are catering to the sports enthusiast market with UPF rated clothing for your specific interest. Have a hard time remembering to reapply sunscreen? There are fitness shirts, hats, jackets, swimwear and more that are cool, comfortable and specifically designed for protection from the sun’s harmful rays.

Consider the time of day when planning your outdoor activities. Choose early morning or later in the evening to avoid the hours between 10am and 2pm when the sun’s rays are strongest. Choose shaded areas under awnings or trees if your activity allows, or consider other means of shade (such as a beach umbrella) if it’s possible to set up your own equipment.

Remember that skin protection is not just for warm weather, either. The sun’s reflection off of ice and snow means that everyone from skiers, snowboarders, ice fishermen and sledders also need sunscreen and eye protection.