Melomed Articles

2 July 2019 - Dr. Riyad Moydien

What Is Vascular Disease?

What is vascular disease?

Your body contains an amazing, intricate system of arteries and veins. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to every part of your body; while veins return the blood back to your heart and lungs for more oxygen.

Most people know that heart disease occurs when the blood vessels in your heart become blocked with plaque and cholesterol, a condition known as atherosclerosis.

Many are unfortunately unaware that the same problem, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), can occur in any artery of the body. Common types of artery disease include carotid artery disease and stroke, aneurysms and peripheral arterial disease.

Venous problems occur in the veins, often resulting in leg swelling, spider veins and varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) and chronic leg problems.

Common types of arterial disease:

Carotid artery disease and stroke

Carotid arteries in the neck carry oxygen to the brain. Patients who have had a transient ischeamic attack (TIA), stroke, sudden loss vision in the eye or have an abnormal sound in the artery, should be referred to a vascular surgeon for diagnosis and possible treatment. Elderly patients with a family history of stroke should be referred for screening and prevention.


An aneurysm is a bulge that develops in a weakened part of an artery. Most commonly they occur in the aorta, the biggest artery of the body, running from the heart through the abdomen. Aneurysms can also occur in the pelvis or the knee. Over time they enlarge and rupture, this is often fatal. When suspected urgent referral is needed. Elderly patients benefit from screening and prevention.

Peripheral arterial disease

Atherosclerosis of the leg arteries causes hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels, leading to decreased or absent flow to the limbs. Early on, this may cause pain when walking, but as the disease progresses, it can cause painful feet, foot ulcers, infections, non-healing wounds and even gangrene. Untreated it carries a high risk of amputation. Screening and prevention are important and early treatment prevents limb loss.

Common venous problems:

Spider veins and varicose veins

Spider veins are small bluish veins just under the skin, while varicose veins are larger bulging veins. Most often they are cosmetic, but they can be a sign of a more serious venous disease. Modern treatment is minimally invasive and can prevent more serious complications such as venous leg ulceration.

Chronic venous insufficiency

This is caused by blood reflux or clotting in the main deep veins, usually in the pelvis. It can also be the result of previous undiagnosed deep vein thrombosis. It's a potentially painful condition, causing pain and swelling of the legs, with darkening of the skin and ultimately leg ulceration.

Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis is the result of blood clots in the deep leg veins. These clots are at risk of embolisation (travelling to the lungs) and resulting in pulmonary embolism.

What is a vascular surgeon?

A vascular surgeon is a super-specialist who specialises in screening and prevention of vascular disease and the treatment of any vascular condition with any treatment - medication, minimally invasive endovascular surgery, or open surgery.

Many vascular conditions are lifelong, and your vascular surgeon may become a lifelong care partner.

Be aware of your vascular health and consult your vascular surgeon.


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