Heart and Vascular Health What Is Vascular Disease? Facts You Need to Know By Heart and Vascular Institute, September 8, 2015 Your vascular system is an important network of arteries and veins, or blood vessels, that bring blood to and from your organs and tissues. Without healthy blood flow, your body cannot work the way it should. Vascular disease is a group of conditions that affect the health of your arteries and veins and can lead to serious problems like heart attack and stroke. Below, you can get some facts about vascular disease and learn how to lower your risks. How Do Blood Vessels Work? Your arteries bring blood from your heart out into your body, giving your organs and tissues the oxygen and nutrients they need. Once your organs and tissues get the oxygen and nutrients, blood returns to your heart through your veins. When your blood vessels are healthy, flexible, and smooth, blood can move through them easily and keep your organs and tissues working the right way. But if your blood vessels are hard, narrow, or blocked by plaque, blood cannot flow the way it should. This means that your organs and tissues can’t get the nutrients they need, which can cause a range of symptoms and even lead to serious health problems. Types of Vascular Disease Vascular disease can cause weak spots in your blood vessels, or make them become narrow or blocked. Common types of vascular disease include: Abdominal aortic aneurysm, a bulge or weak spot in the main artery in your torso that brings blood from your heart into your abdomen. If the aneurysm bursts, it can cause life-threatening bleeding. Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This happens when a hard substance called plaque builds up in your artery walls, making them hard, narrow, or totally blocked. Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems like heart attack or stroke. Carotid artery disease, which happens when the arteries that bring blood to your brain become narrow or blocked and can lead to stroke. Peripheral artery disease, which happens when the arteries that bring blood to your limbs and pelvis become narrow or blocked and can lead to pain, loss of function, and in severe cases, limb loss. Am I At Risk for Vascular Disease? The risk of vascular disease gets higher as you get older. Some medical conditions and habits can also make your risk higher, including: Smoking High cholesterol levels High blood pressure Diabetes Being overweight or obese Not getting regular exercise Having an unhealthy diet How is Vascular Disease Treated? Treatment for vascular disease depends on what type you have, how severe it is, your symptoms, and other risk factors. Treatment can include: Lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and losing weight Surgery to clean out the plaque in your arteries, to make a bypass (detour) around a blocked artery, or to repair an aneurysm Balloon angioplasty and stenting, which uses a balloon to flatten plaque against your artery wall and a metal mesh tube called a stent to keep your artery open Can I Lower My Risks for Vascular Disease? Your doctor can help you find ways to lower your risks, like making changes to your lifestyle and getting regular screenings for vascular disease. To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute online or call 412-802-3333 to schedule an evaluation with a vascular specialist.