Arterial disease

November 12, 2012

Arterial disease

As the name suggests arterial disease is just that – a disease of the arteries. Specifically of the blood vessels leaving the heart. Peripheral arterial disease generally affects the legs – it is the arteries supplying the legs which are usually affected. The arteries from the heart become narrower due to the buildup of plaques on the artery wall and so restrict blood flow to the legs. Pain on exercise may be experienced due to the restricted blood flow to the muscles. This disease appears to affect more men than women. Other arteries in the neck or pelvis may also be affected and the condition increases the risk of stroke as well as heart attack.

Symptoms of arterial disease

Many patients with arterial disease have no symptoms and thus may not even know they have the condition. If symptoms occur they will usually appear in one leg – pain in the calf after exercise. Without treatment the condition will worsen and other symptoms may then also appear, such as -

  • Wounds which are slow to heal on the feet or legs.

  • Thinning, shiny skin

  • Hair loss from legs and feet.

  • Feeling of numbness in feet and toes coupled with coldness.

Of course it is likely that the disease of the arteries also present elsewhere in the body -

  • Narrowed arteries to the heart are a symptom of coronary heart disease, when the narrowing becomes a blockage a heart attack can occur.

  • If the narrowing artery occurs into or leading into, your brain you may experience a stroke.

  • Arterial disease may cause weakening in the artery walls and this in turn may cause an aneurysm – a small swelling which may burst, this is a very serious medical condition and patients will be routinely examined for signs of an aneurysm.

  • A small number of patients with extremely painful arterial disease may need to undergo amputation of the affected limb.

Causes of fatty deposits in the arteries

The risk factors for arterial disease are well known, the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries has several known causes -

  • Age – the over 50s are more likely to develop the condition.

  • Smoking

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol.

  • Diabetes

  • Men are more likely to have the condition.

  • Obesity

  • Physically inactive

  • A diet high in fatty foods

In order to obtain a correct diagnosis your doctor will carry out a physical examination after asking about your symptoms and looking at your medical history. He or she may also request that you have an ECG and some blood tests. An ankle brachial pressure index may be taken – this compares blood pressure in the ankle with blood pressure in the arm.

Depending on the severity of your condition, and if the pain is affecting your day to day living, you may be referred to a vascular surgeon who may then conduct more tests – including an angiogram, an ultrasound or a CT scan.

Ways to improve your condition due to arterial disease

If you suspect you have arterial disease then even before diagnosis there are steps you can take to improve your condition -

  • Stop smoking

  • Lose weight

  • Improve your diet

  • Increase exercise

  • Diabetes sufferers should ensure that their blood sugar remains well controlled.

Once you have received a diagnosis your doctor is likely to prescribe a medicine called a statin which helps to reduce and control cholesterol, you may also be prescribed medication to lower blood pressure.


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