Vascular disease is common but it may be one of the least understood of medical problems. Vascular disease affects the circulatory system, which includes arteries and veins. It also includes the lymphatic system, which moves lymph—a clear or whitish fluid—from your body’s tissues to the bloodstream. Lymph is important for the immune system. Problems within the circulatory system affect not only the blood vessels, but other parts of your body. For example, cardiovascular disease is caused by narrowed or blocked blood vessels (atherosclerosis) that supply freshly oxygenated blood to your heart muscle, resulting in angina or a heart attack. Renal vascular disease refers to complications related to the arteries and veins of the kidneys. Here are the most common vascular conditions and issues vascular disease can cause. Most Common Vascular Conditions Your body’s tissues and organs depend on a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients from your blood as it flows away from the heart through your arteries and is returned to your lungs through your veins. As long as the blood vessels are healthy and your heart pumps effectively, the blood flows out and back as it should. However, if there is damage in the blood vessels, this can compromise the speed of the blood flow and how well it circulates. The most common forms of vascular disease include: Atherosclerosis. Often called ‘hardening of the arteries,’ atherosclerosis occurs when plaque (fat and calcium) builds up along the arterial walls. The buildup can narrow or fully block the artery, or pieces of the plaque can break away and travel to your heart causing a heart attack. Peripheral artery disease, or PAD. Your peripheral arteries are the arteries that bring blood to your limbs, away from your heart. A narrowing or blockage in an artery in your leg, for example, keeps your blood from flowing to your lower leg and foot. This can result in pain, tissue death and gangrene. PAD may also be called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD. An underlying cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A DVT is a blood clot in a deep vein. DVTs occur most often in a calf or thigh, but they can occur elsewhere. This blood clot can block blood flow to the rest of the limb or damage the vein. Another danger is a piece of the blockage can break away and travel to your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Carotid artery disease. Your carotid arteries running through each side of the neck supply blood to the brain. A blockage in the carotid arteries can cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke. Renal vascular stenosis/disease. Narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys results in renal vascular disease. The reduced blood flow can cause kidney damage and hypertension. Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Your aorta is the main blood vessel that transports freshly oxygenated blood from your lungs to your heart. If a small section of the aorta wall becomes stretched and thins out, it can begin to bulge. This weakens the wall and puts you at risk of the wall rupturing or bursting, which is a vascular surgery emergency. Varicose veins. Varicose veins are a common condition where the veins become enlarged and sometimes twisted. They aren’t serious, but they can cause pain and be unsightly. They occur most often in the legs. Raynaud’s phenomenon, also called Raynaud’s disease or Raynaud’s syndrome. This condition is caused by narrowing in the blood vessels in the hands and feet. This causes the hands and feet to become cold and numb. It’s not serious but it can be uncomfortable. Vascular Disease Causes and Known Risk Factors Vascular diseases can be caused by outside influences, such as a buildup of plaque along the blood vessel walls, but they may also be caused by trauma to a blood vessel, tumors or malformations, or spasms in the blood vessels themselves. Certain factors can increase your risk of developing vascular disease, such as: Obesity Smoking Poorly controlled (or uncontrolled) high blood pressure High cholesterol Diabetes Being over age 50 Having a family history of vascular disease, including PAD, heart disease, or stroke Specific types of vascular disease may have other causes. For example, blood that clots too quickly can cause a DVT. It can also be caused if you sit for too long with your legs down, as you might for a long airplane fight or car ride. Complications Related to Vascular Disease Vascular disease can cause serious complications, such as sudden death or disability from stroke, pulmonary embolism, heart disease, heart attack, or ruptured aneurysm. Other complications (listed below) can decrease quality of life. They are usually related to where the problem is: Erectile dysfunction. A man may be impotent if there is not enough blood flow to the genital area. Pain or discomfort. Decreased oxygen to the body’s tissues can cause pain or discomfort, as with a DVT or Raynaud’s. Delayed wound healing. Wounds may not heal properly if blood flow to the area isn’t adequate. Infections. If wounds do not heal, they could become infected. This happens most often in the lower legs and feet. Limited mobility. If you have pain or discomfort in your legs, you may move around less and this can result in other issues related to sitting or staying in bed too long. Vascular disease can be serious and lead to life-altering or fatal complications. If you have any symptoms of vascular disease or you have reason to believe you are at risk for developing vascular disease, speak with your doctor about your risks and what you may do to reduce them.