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What are vascular diseases?

Vascular diseases are any condition that affects your circulatory system. The circulatory system includes your blood vessels (arteries, veins and capillaries) and your lymphatic vessels! Thus, vascular diseases can mean diseases of your arteries, veins, lymph vessels or blood disorders that affect circulation. Vascular diseases are part of an umbrella of cardiovascular diseases that affect the body's heart and its blood vessels.

Diagram showing difference between artery, vein and capillary

Arteries

They are muscular-walled tubes that transport oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body with the exception of the pulmonary artery.

Veins

These vessels have a larger lumen (think of the hole inside a straw) and they carry the blood, usually oxygen-poor back to your heart to absorb more oxygen. Did you know that your veins usually hold about 75% of all the blood flowing through your body‌?

Some similarities and differences between arteries and veins

Veins are larger in diameter, and carry more blood compared to arteries. They also have thinner walls . On the other hand, arteries are smaller, but they have thicker walls in proportion to their lumen (hole) and carry blood under higher pressure. That's the reason why if you accidentally slice open an artery, blood will come out in spurts, but if you did the same to a vein, it is more likely to come out in a slower stream. Arteries and veins normally travel together with the same connective tissue pathways.

Capillaries

They are the tiniest blood vessels that connect your small arteries to your small veins. Their walls are thin and leaky, so that materials like oxygen or carbon dioxide can be transported between your tissues and blood.

What are Vascular Diseases

Cardiovascular diseases are conditions that affect your vascular system (made up of the vessels that carry blood and lymph through the body). They are common and can be serious in some cases. Some types include:

  • Aneurysm - when there is a bulge or "balloon" in an artery wall
  • Atherosclerosis - a disease where plaque (usually a fat-like substance) builds up inside your arteries.
  • Blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg) and pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung)
  • Coronary artery disease and carotid artery disease - They are diseases that involve the narrowing or blockage of an artery
  • Raynaud's disease -Your blood vessels narrow when you are feeling cold or stressed
  • Stroke - a serious condition that happens when the blood flow to your brain stops – this can be fatal
  • Varicose veins - swollen of twisted veins that you may see just below the skin
  • Vasculitis - inflammation of blood vessels
  • Peripheral Artery Disease (narrowing or blockage of the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the legs)

Causes of Vascular Diseases

The causes of vascular diseases depend on which disease you have. Some causes include:

  • Genetics - Certain genes may make you more likely to have certain vascular diseases
  • Heart diseases due to risks factors like high cholesterol,high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Infection
  • Injury

Sometimes the cause might be unknown.

Leg with Spider veins

Here's a picture of Spider Veins, a mild form of Varicose Veins

Risk Factors

Some of the more common risk factors include:

  • Age - your risk of some diseases goes up as you get older
  • Conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, like diabetes or high cholesterol
  • Having family members with vascular or heart diseases
  • Infection or injury that damages your veins
  • Lack of exercise
  • Certain medications
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sitting or standing still for long periods of time
  • Smoking

What are the symptoms of vascular diseases?

Well, the symptoms for each disease are different. Some symptoms may include chest pain (angina) or tightness, difficulty breathing, visible spider veins and more.

How are vascular diseases diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, your doctor will do a physical exam. They may ask about your symptoms and medical history. You may have imaging tests (Ultrasound/CT scans/MRI) and/or blood tests.

How are vascular diseases treated?

Which treatment you get depends on which vascular disease you have and the severity. Some types of treatments for vascular diseases include:

  • Lifestyle changes, like choosing to eat a heart-healthy diet and exercising more
  • Medicines, such as blood pressure or cholesterol medicines, blood thinners, and blood clot-dissolving drugs. Doctors may choose to use a catheter to send medicine directly to a blood vessel in more serious cases.
  • Non-surgical procedures, including angioplasty, stenting, and vein ablation
  • Surgery

Can vascular diseases be prevented?

There are some things you can do to help prevent vascular diseases:

  • Make healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating a heart-healthy diet (which we will explain below) and getting more exercise.
  • Don't smoke. If you are already a smoker, talk to your doctor to find the most suitable way for you to quit.
  • Go for regular screenings to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control
  • Work to control your blood sugar, especially if you already have diabetes.
  • Don't sit or stand for a long time. You can try to wear compression stockings and regularly stretch your legs if you have to remain seated for a long time due to your job

How does Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure increase the risk of Vascular Disease?

Diagram showing normal and partly blocked vessel

High levels of "bad" cholesterol (a fat-like substance) will mean that there is greater plaque (fatty deposits) in your blood vessels. When the amount of plaque builds up over time, perhaps due to unhealthy eating habits or a lack of exercise, your blood vessels become blocked (atherosclerosis).

If the vessels are blocked, there may be many problems, as certain parts of your body might not have enough oxygen or nutrients to function properly. The plaque can also break off, causing a blood clot which may also block off your blood vessels.

High blood pressure can lead to coronary artery disease because it increases the force on the artery walls. Over time, your blood vessels may become damaged and lead to more plaque buildup. The narrowed artery could limit or even blocks the blood flow to the heart muscle.

Relation between Birth Control Meds and Vascular Disease

Taking the pill can cause blood clots to form in blood vessels. When a blood clot blocks a blood vessel which supplies blood to the brain, a stroke could occurs.

If a blood clot blocks blood flow through a coronary artery, a heart attack may happen.

Using birth control pills can put you at greater risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), or coronary artery disease (CAD) – the most common type of heart disease and heart attack.

Birth control pills contain estrogen (A hormone) which may weaken your vein valves. When these valves don't close properly, it can stop blood from returning to your heart. Blood can then leak back into the lower part of your vein.

Over time, more blood will get stuck in the vein. This can increase the pressure on the vein wall, weakening it and causing your vein to grow larger.

What is a heart healthy diet?

Here are 6 things you can do:

1. Control your portion size

2. Eat more vegetables and fruits

Table showing which fruits to eat more and which to limit Table showing which fruits to eat more and which to limit

3. Select whole grains

Table showing which grain products to eat more and which to limit Table showing which grain products to eat more and which to limit

4. Limit unhealthy fats

Table showing which food high in fat content to eat more and which to limit Table showing which food high in fat content to eat more and which to limit

5. Choose low-fat protein sources

Table showing which food high in protein to eat more and which to limit Table showing which food high in protein to eat more and which to limit

6. Reduce the salt (sodium) in your food

Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure. Healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt). Most adults ideally have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day

Table showing which low salt products to eat more and which salt-rich food to limit Table showing which low salt products to eat more and which salt-rich food to limit

For more information or if you require a medical consultation, please contact My Healthcare Collective here.