Looking after your vascular system is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and wellbeing. Poor lifestyle choices — like an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise — will affect all aspects of your physical and mental health, but in particular your veins and arteries. Blocked blood vessels can have significant repercussions, from simple pain in your legs to a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke.
Peripheral Vascular Disease — or PVD — is a relatively common vascular condition, affecting almost 1 in 5 Australians. While PVD is not necessarily life-threatening, it can lead to serious complications, particularly if left untreated.
Read on to learn more about this condition and the warning signs you should look for that suggest you need to consult a vascular surgeon in Melbourne to discuss your health and wellbeing.
The vascular system — an overview
The vascular system is also known as the circulatory system and is responsible for the delivery of blood, oxygen, and other substances throughout the body.
Three main types of vessels make up this system: arteries, veins, and capillaries. Arteries take oxygenated blood away from the heart and deliver it to muscles, organs, and tissues. Veins carry the deoxygenated blood and other waste products back to the heart. Capillaries act as an intermediary between the two, helping to distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
The vascular system works in collaboration with several other systems to keep our bodies healthy and mobile. These systems include the respiratory system, digestive system, and urinary system.
There are many different types of conditions that can impair the vascular system. Some are relatively common and harmless — like spider veins, for example. Others can be life-threatening and strike with little to no warning, like a heart attack or stroke.
While living a healthy lifestyle (avoiding foods containing excess sugar and fat, engaging in an appropriate amount of exercise, and getting plenty of sleep) can help reduce your risk, many of these conditions have hereditary links. Part of promoting good vascular health is understanding how your family has previously been affected by vascular disease and speaking to your doctor or vascular surgeon about your personal risk profile.
Peripheral vascular disease explained
Peripheral vascular disease is defined as the reduced circulation of blood to a body part (other than the brain or heart) due to a narrowed or blocked vessel, which is typically caused by plaque.
While this sounds very serious, peripheral vascular disease is not necessarily a life-threatening condition, particularly if you are able to identify symptoms early and speak to your vascular surgeon.
Peripheral vascular disease typically affects the legs and kidneys. The symptoms of the condition include:
- Intermittent pain or cramping in the legs when you walk or run, also known as claudication.
- Cold and numbness of the affected body part, usually the feet.
- Pain or numbness of the feet when sleeping, that is alleviated when the feet are hung over the side of the bed.
- Muscular weakness and cramping or pain that is worse with activity and relieved with rest.
- A pale colour of the skin.
- Wounds that do not heal and turn into ulcers.
If the latter symptom is not attended to, wounds may become infected to the point where a patient has to undergo an amputation. Someone suffering from peripheral vascular disease may also develop gangrene due to reduced blood flow to the affected area. Gangrene cannot be reversed and may also result in amputation.
Risk factors for peripheral vascular disease
Unfortunately, symptoms of PVD often don’t appear until the condition is quite advanced, which can make treating the issue more difficult. Understanding risk factors is critical to reducing your risk.
Patients diagnosed with diabetes certainly have a heightened risk of being affected by PVD. Consistently high blood sugar damages blood vessels, causing them to narrow. Other risk factors include smoking, being significantly overweight, and having high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol. Males and increasing age are also risk factors.
Individuals with a family history of PVD or other types of vascular disease may be more likely to be affected by the disorder, particularly if they also have a sedentary lifestyle.
Treating peripheral vascular disease
Fortunately, there is a range of treatment options available. Your best course of action is to consult a vascular surgeon in Melbourne who is able to offer multiple types of treatment so that they can tailor your care based on your specific circumstances.
Certain medications may be recommended to lower your blood pressure or prevent clots from occurring. Alternatively, a vascular surgeon may perform an angioplasty, which involves inserting a catheter into the affected blood vessel and inflating a small balloon at its tip to widen the channel. A metal stent is then implanted to prevent the vessel from returning to its former state.
If you have identified symptoms of peripheral vascular disease or believe your family history and lifestyle means you are at risk, book an appointment with a vascular surgeon in Melbourne today to discuss your concerns and treatment options.