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The intricate pattern of blood vessels (arteries and veins) running throughout your body is called the vascular system. The arteries carry blood, oxygen, and nutrients from the heart to critical areas. The veins carry blood back to the heart, removing carbon dioxide and other waste products in the process. When the system malfunctions, it’s called vascular disease.

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Common Forms of Vascular Disease

Peripheral arterial disease

Peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, is a hardening or narrowing of the arteries, blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood and nutrients to the cells. This condition diminishes blood flow and occurs most often in the legs.

Symptoms often develop slowly and can include cramping in your calves, thighs, or buttocks while walking, and pain in your feet while resting at night. As blockages worsen, symptoms may become more pronounced. You are at risk for PAD if:

Abdominal aortic aneurysm

An aortic aneurysm occurs when the arterial wall weakens and slowly develops a bulge. Abdominal aortic aneurysms, which take decades to develop, can be silent killers if not discovered early.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms most commonly occur directly behind the belly button. When an aneurysm bursts, the blood flows out and pools in the abdomen. Aneurysms are the 11th leading cause of death among men in the United States.

The chance of having an aneurysm is between 2 and 5 percent, and there usually are no symptoms. But if you experience sudden, severe abdominal pain or lower back pain, call 911.You are at risk of having an aneurysm if you:

  • Have a family history of aneurysms. If a female in your family has had an aneurysm, the chance of a first-generation relative having an aneurysm is 25 percent. If a male family member has had an aneurysm, the chance of a first-generation relative having an aneurysm is 12.5 percent.
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Are a smoker
  • Have aneurysms in other blood vessels

Aneurysms are best diagnosed with the appropriate vascular screening programs. Not all aneurysms need to be repaired. The small ones can be monitored to ensure they aren’t growing. However, if an aneurysm enlarges or is associated with symptoms, surgery may be needed.

Varicose veins

This is a common condition of twisted, bulging veins that are visible just under your skin. They typically occur in the legs. Varicose veins are hereditary, and women are slightly more at risk than men. Women who have had children are at higher risk.

Although you may dislike how they look, varicose veins don’t always cause pain or other problems. If varicose veins become enlarged or painful, exercising, elevating your legs, and wearing compression stockings can help. If not, you may want to seek treatment. Minimally invasive vein procedures can be performed in your doctor’s office, usually in less than 20 minutes.

Educating yourself about the different types and symptoms of vascular disease is important as you grow older. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms or risk factors so you can take charge of your health.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.