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What is Vascular Disease?

Vascular disease is a silent and often disabling or fatal condition of the arteries and veins that raises the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Vascular disease is highly prevalent—affecting millions of individuals—and is associated with decreased quality of life and a very high risk of heart attack, stroke, amputation and death. 

Vascular disease can be the result of atherosclerosis—plaque buildup and blockages—causing less blood flow through the arteries. Most people are familiar with how this plaque buildup affects the heart arteries and increases the risk of heart attack but most do not realize that it can develop in all arteries.

Arteries can also develop weakened areas causing an enlargement or bulge known as an aneurysm. The most common site for an aneurysm is in the abdominal aorta, the largest artery in the abdomen. Eventually, the aneurysm becomes so large and its wall so weak that it ruptures.

Primary Forms of Vascular Disease

  • Carotid Artery Disease

The carotid arteries in the neck supply a majority of blood to the brain. When they become blocked with plaque or a piece of plaque breaks off—known as an embolus—and travels to the brain, blood flow is blocked leading to a stroke. Stroke is Iowa’s third largest killer and a leading cause of adult disability.

  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Disease (AAA)

Aneurysms are known as silent killers because the vast majority of people who have an aneurysm have no symptoms and more than 80 percent of ruptured aneurysms are fatal.  Abdominal aortic aneurysm is the 13th leading cause of death in the U.S.  

  • Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

More than 12 million Americans have peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a disease that affects the arteries outside the heart—most commonly the legs. PAD can decrease blood flow to the legs and feet that can result in muscle fatigue and pain when walking, disability, diminished quality of life, and in its worst form, amputation. People with PAD have a two-to-six-fold increased risk of death from heart attack and stroke.

In the absence of education and detection, many high-risk individuals will not receive diagnosis prior to a disabling or fatal event.

Vascular screening is painless and non-invasive. It includes blood pressure measurements in both arms and ankles and ultrasound studies using gel and soundwaves to look at the arteries in the neck and abdomen.

Talk to your health care provider to see if you’re a candidate for a vascular screening.

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