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Vascular disorders are diseases of the blood vessels. They fall into two major categories: disorders of the veins and disorders of the arteries. Blood vessels work in conjunction with the heart to power all other major bodily systems, so an understanding of vascular disorders is especially crucial.
Arteries pump blood from the heart throughout the body, and healthy arteries are strong and flexible. A weakening, fissure, or clogging of these vessels leads to disease. Artery disease is so common that it is a leading cause of death in the Western Hemisphere.
When plaque builds up in the arteries and they harden, arteriosclerosis results. This condition then facilitates other artery disorders. One especially dangerous arterial ailment results when the aorta — the heart’s main artery — weakens and bulges. Left untreated, this type of aneurysm can rupture and lead to death. Smokers, older males, and those with a family history are most at risk for this condition.
Another common arterial vascular disorder is acrocyanosis. This condition involves failure of the arteries in the hands and feet to contract properly. Bluish skin and a chill in the extremities can be the result.
Veins, which take blood back to the heart, and arteries are equally susceptible to disease. One of the more well-known venous vascular disorders is deep vein thrombosis. This disorder results when a blood clot develops in the primary leg vein. Illness and inactivity are the most common culprits for thrombosis development, because of the resulting slowing of blood flow. Leg-related symptoms include discoloration, tenderness, pain, swelling, warming, and numbness.
Left untreated, a clot can break off and travel to the lungs, resulting in a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Clots can also lead to the development of chronic venous insufficiency. This renders the veins unable to properly pump blood back to the heart.
Vascular disorders can affect both arteries and veins. In a birth defect known as arteriovenous malformation, arteries and veins become abnormally tangled, disrupting the blood flow process. Headaches and seizures are symptoms of this disorder, although the disease may present no symptoms at all. Most malformations are detected through a medical examination.
Genetic factors or trauma can also alter the connection between a vein and artery, a condition known as arteriovenous fistula. One possible warning sign of this vascular disorder is a lowered diastolic blood pressure coupled with a large pulse pressure. A less common inflammatory vascular disorder that may affect smaller arteries and veins is Buerger’s disease. A primary feature of this condition is non-healing sores brought about by blockage in the vessels.
In more extreme cases, an overall inflammation of the entire vascular system can lead to vasculitis. Symptoms include weight loss, fever, numbness, joint aches, visual disturbances, and trouble swallowing. This dangerous disease can adversely impact any organ system in the body.
The most important element in the prevention of vascular disorders is a healthy heart. Obesity, smoking, aging, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and familial predispositions all put strain on the heart and its support system. Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise and vigilant health checkups can foster the heart-healthy lifestyle necessary for a strong cardiovascular system.
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