Your vascular system is your network of blood vessels that includes your arteries and veins. When your vascular system is healthy, blood travels freely through blood vessels, carrying oxygen and nutrients to every cell in the body.
Any condition that affects your blood’s circulation is considered vascular disease—whether your vessels harden and narrow from a buildup of plaque, a condition called atherosclerosis, or they swell and their walls become thin and rupture.
Slowed, interrupted, or decreased blood flow can reduce life expectancy by causing a host of problems, including:
- Heart attacks
- Ruptured blood vessels, secondary to aneurysm formation
- Kidney failure due to restricted blood flow
- Limb loss
Regular check-ups and early screenings to catch potential health issues before they grow into bigger problems are recommended.
An estimated eight million to 15 million Americans have vascular disease, and at least half do not experience symptoms. Symptoms, such as leg pain, may be mistaken for other conditions, such as arthritis. In many cases, vascular disease has no symptoms until it results in a stroke, mini-stroke, or ruptured aneurysm.
Several conditions and lifestyle factors increase a person's risk, including:
- High cholesterol and lipid levels
- High blood pressure
- Family history of atherosclerosis
- Being overweight
- Sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
- High-stress lifestyle
- Over age 50 or post-menopausal (though it can occur at any age)
If you are experiencing symptoms that may indicate a problem with your heart, talk to your primary care physician or make an appointment with a cardiologist. Depending on the issue, your doctor may refer you to a vascular surgeon for additional testing.
MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute
MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center partners with MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, a national leader in research, diagnosis, and treatment of cardiovascular disease.