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.
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:
- Cramping and pain in the legs and buttocks, indicating poor circulation in the legs.
- 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.”
- Leg pain that does not go away when you stop exercising
- Foot or toe wounds that don’t heal or heal very slowly
- 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.
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.
People often ignore or brush off certain symptoms as “minor” when it comes to their health. Many times, vascular issues are indicative of a larger problem, or more serious illness. Here are some issues that you should definitely speak to your physician about.
Leg pain: Pains that start in your legs with walking or other exertion could be a sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which often goes hand-in-hand with coronary artery disease.
Varicose veins: Varicose veins are not just an unsightly cosmetic annoyance, but also an indication that the veins in your legs are not working the way they should. Untreated varicose veins can lead to more serious issues including blood clots, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
There are more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body, providing the network for the flow of oxygen and nutrients required by the body for good health. VCU Health at Baird Vascular Institute has the latest in technology and techniques to diagnose and treat vascular disease. If we uncover signs of vascular disease, our experts can develop a custom treatment plan for you.
Sources: Cleveland Clinic, VCU Health at Baird Vascular Institute
Vascular disease is the general term for conditions that affect the blood vessels, including heart attack, stroke and coronary artery disease.
Vascular disease is not limited to older adults; it can strike anyone at any age, at any time. If there is a family history of vascular disease, patients should be especially diligent to stay healthy.
You can improve your overall health and risk of developing vascular disease by following these health guidelines.
- Don’t smoke. And if you do smoke, stop immediately. This also goes for other tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, pipes and smokeless tobacco
- Adopt healthy eating habits, including plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Avoid excess sugar, sodium, fat and red meat
- Get regular exercise, at least 30 minutes, four to six times per week
- Reduce stress, through exercise, meditation or other efforts
- If you are a diabetic, keep your blood sugar levels under control
- Take medications if you need them to help lower your cholesterol and lower your blood pressure
- Get regular checkups from your doctor, and make sure your doctor knows of your family history
Sources: Vascular Cures, MedicineNet.com
Vascular ultrasound is a noninvasive ultrasound method used in vascular screening to evaluate your blood circulation. A vascular ultrasound may also be called a duplex study since it combines traditional ultrasound and Doppler ultrasound.
- Traditional ultrasound uses sound waves that bounce off blood vessels to create pictures.
- Doppler ultrasound records sound waves reflecting off moving objects, such as blood, to measure their speed and other aspects of how they flow.
Ultrasound is noninvasive, meaning the vascular screening exam does not require the use of needles, dyes, radiation or anesthesia. Ultrasound imaging uses a small transducer or probe, and ultrasound gel placed directly on the skin. High-frequency sound waves are transmitted from the probe through the gel into the body. The transducer collects the sounds that bounce back and a computer then uses those sound waves to create an image. Since different tissues of the body, such as muscle, bone, and blood vessels have different densities, they show up differently on the image.
Your physician may recommend that you have this vascular screening exam to evaluate the blood flow to specific organs in your body. Vascular ultrasound can be used to evaluate:
- Blockages to blood flow, such as clots
- Stenosis or narrowing of vessels, which may be caused by plaque or emboli
- Tumors, congenital vascular malformations or aneurysms
- Blood flow to organs and tissues throughout the body
- Confirm that a blood vessel graft or bypass is working properly
- Source and severity of varicose veins
Ultrasounds are generally quick and virtually pain-free. The technologists at the VCU Health at Baird Vascular Institute are highly skilled and certified to perform vascular screening ultrasound exams. They work in close collaboration with our physicians to provide the most accurate and useful imaging possible to help diagnose and treat your condition.
- Although varicose veins may not cause problems, sometimes they cause aching pain, throbbing, and discomfort in the legs, and occasionally, varicose veins can lead to more serious health concerns.
- The unsightly nature of varicose veins may make patients less likely to engage in warm weather activities they not only enjoy, but are also good methods of exercise, because they are embarrassed by the appearance of their legs.
- Treating varicose veins may mean doing away with compression stockings or other restrictive, uncomfortable methods of long-term treatment.
- When home remedies such as compression stockings, elevating the legs, and avoiding long periods of continuous standing or sitting are no longer relieving the symptoms, it may be time to consider other options.
- Finally, today’s treatments are less invasive, less painful and require much less recovery time than treatments of the past.