Blood Vessel Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What are the signs of blood vessel problems?

Blood vessel symptoms are common when there is an alteration to normal blood flow in an artery or vein. This includes underlying blood vessel conditions, such as atherosclerosis or an aneurysm. In atherosclerosis, blood vessel symptoms result when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to the head, organs and limbs. Most commonly, people develop atherosclerosis as a result of diabetes, genetic risk factors, high blood pressure, a high-fat diet, obesity, high blood cholesterol levels, and smoking.

The signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis are not usually apparent until blood flow becomes significantly restricted. The course of the disease varies among individuals. Some people with atherosclerosis have no symptoms at all, while others may have severe hypertension, aneurysm, blood clots, and pain caused by coronary or peripheral artery disease.

An aneurysm is an abnormal widening or ballooning of an artery due to weakness in the wall of the blood vessel. Aneurysms are dangerous because they may burst, spilling blood into the area surrounding the blood vessel. The disease can occur in the aorta, the artery that leads from the heart to the abdomen, in a blood vessel in the brain, or in a peripheral blood vessel.

The signs and symptoms of an aneurysm depend on its location. The disease course varies among individuals. Some people with an aneurysm have no symptoms at all, but if the aneurysm ruptures, internal bleeding occurs, potentially causing pain, low blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, and lightheadedness. If the aneurysm occurs near the surface of the skin, pain and swelling with a throbbing mass are often felt.

Blood vessel symptoms can be a sign of a serious condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have symptoms such as severe chest pain or pressure, rapid heart rate, the worst headache of your life, pain that radiates from the chest, shoulder, or arm, loss of consciousness for even a moment, or difficulty breathing.

Seek prompt medical care if your blood vessel symptoms are persistent or cause you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with blood vessel symptoms?

Blood vessel symptoms may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the blood vessels may also involve other body systems.

Common symptoms of atherosclerosis

The most common symptoms of atherosclerosis are related to disturbances in the arteries of the heart, brain and limbs.

Symptoms related to arteries in the heart include:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea) or rapid breathing (tachypnea)

Symptoms related to arteries in the brain include:

Symptoms related to arteries in arms and legs include:

  • Coolness of the affected extremity
  • Arm pain
  • Leg pain

    Common symptoms of an aneurysm

    Aneurysms typically do not produce symptoms. However, if an aneurysm ruptures, any of these aneurysm symptoms may occur and can be severe:

    Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

    In some cases, blood vessel symptoms may indicate a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

    • Blurred vision or double vision
    • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
    • Chest pain or pressure
    • Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak
    • Irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
    • Numbness, weakness or paralysis of one side of the face
    • Pain or discomfort in the arms, the left shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back
    • Paralysis or inability to move a body part
    • Rapid breathing (tachypnea) or shortness of breath (dyspnea)
    • Sudden severe headache

    What causes blood vessel symptoms?

    A variety of genetic and environmental factors is involved in the development of both atherosclerosis and aneurysms.

    Causes of atherosclerosis

    Blood vessel symptoms result from the narrowing and potential blockage of blood vessel walls. Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of blood vessel symptoms. Atherosclerosis is a process in which deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, and cellular waste products build up in the inner lining of an artery. The buildup is called plaque, which narrows the blood vessel’s diameter and restricts blood flow and oxygen supply. Often, a blood clot forms near this plaque and blocks the blood vessel, stopping the blood flow.

    Causes of aneurysms

    Aneurysms are caused by weakness in the wall of a cerebral artery or vein, aortic artery, or peripheral artery. The disorder may result from defects present at birth (congenital) or from underlying conditions such as hypertensive vascular disease and atherosclerosis, or from previous trauma to the area of the aneurysm.

    Inherited conditions that affect the connective tissues of the body, such as Marfan’s syndrome, also increase your risk of developing certain types of aneurysms.

    Serious or life-threatening causes of blood vessel symptoms

    In some cases, blood vessel symptoms may indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Examples include:

    • Myocardial infarction (heart attack), which can be a complication of atherosclerosis

    • Ruptured aneurysm

    • Stroke

    Questions for diagnosing the cause of blood vessel symptoms

    To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your blood vessel symptoms including:

    • Do you have any pain or discomfort?

    • Do you have any other symptoms?

    • Do you have diabetes?

    • Do you have high blood pressure?

    • What medications are you taking?

    • Does anything worsen or relieve your symptoms?

    What are the potential complications of blood vessel symptoms?

    Because blood vessel symptoms can be caused by serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

    • Blood clots

    • Coronary heart disease

    • Hypovolemic shock (state of low blood pressure induced by bleeding or other fluid loss)

    • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)

    • Organ damage (kidneys, brain, liver and intestines)

    • Permanent disability

    • Reduced circulation in the legs and feet

    • Ruptured aneurysm

    • Severe internal bleeding

    • Stroke

    • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

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    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 19
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    THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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    5. Eraso LH, Fukaya E, Mohler ER 3rd, et al. Peripheral arterial disease, prevalence and cumulative risk factor profile analysis. Eur J Prev Cardiol 2012.