Treatment Options for Vascular Disease
Your vascular system is made up of your blood vessels (arteries and veins) and lymphatic system. The arteries bring oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body to nourish the tissues and organs, and the veins return the ‘used’ blood for reoxygenation and the cycle continues. When there is a problem within the vascular system, it can significantly impact your health, even causing serious complications like strokes, heart attacks, or pulmonary emboli.
Learn about the various treatments available for vascular disease, including peripheral artery disease (also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD), and how these interventions can help decrease your risk of complications.
Vascular disease covers a wide variety of conditions, from an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) to varicose veins. Some conditions can be life threatening, while others can be painful or uncomfortable, but not fatal. For the most part, vascular surgeons are the experts who manage vascular conditions. The two exceptions are vascular disease that affects the heart, which is treated by cardiologists or cardiovascular surgeons, and vascular disease that affects the brain, which is treated by neurologists and neurosurgeons.
The treatment plan for vascular disease depends on the condition, the severity, and your overall health. Vascular surgeons often work closely with other specialists, such as endocrinologists, radiologists, wound care specialists, and cardiologists to ensure treatment is as thorough and effective as possible.
Vascular surgeons are specialists in the vascular system. They diagnose and treat patients with vascular disorders other than the heart or brain. Vascular surgeons treat long-term conditions, such as varicose veins, as well as vascular emergencies.
Surgery may be necessary to open a narrowed blood vessel or to repair a damaged one. The goal is to restore adequate blood flow. In many cases, the surgeon may opt for endovascular surgery, which is a type of minimally invasive surgery, rather than open surgery, which requires a large surgical incision. Some of the most common vascular surgeries or procedures include:
Abdominal aortic aneurysm repair. The vascular surgeon repairs the weakened part of the wall or makes a bypass so pressure from the pumping blood does not cause a rupture.
Vascular bypass surgery. If you have peripheral artery disease, the surgeon may decide to reroute the blood through a bypass artery, to allow for adequate blood flow to your limb. This is peripheral vascular bypass surgery.
Laser therapy. Varicose veins that cause pain or are unsightly may be treated with laser therapy. That is just one type of varicose vein procedure.
Carotid endarterectomy. Blockages in one or both carotid arteries—the arteries that supply blood to the brain—may be treated with an endarterectomy. The vascular surgeon makes an incision in your neck to access the artery and remove the plaque from the blood vessel wall.
Angioplasty or stenting. PVD treatment may require an angioplasty or stent. The vascular surgeon inserts a long narrow catheter into an artery, usually in the groin, and advances it to the blockage. A tiny balloon at the end of the catheter inflates, which pushes the plaque flat against the walls of the artery. This procedure widens the passage to increase blood flow. If necessary, the surgeon places a stent (a small metal coil) inside the artery to hold the walls open.
Surgery is not always necessary to manage vascular disease, particularly in the early stages. Medications that lower cholesterol, for example, may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, which is a common underlying cause of some vascular diseases. Other treatments include:
Antihypertensive medications to relieve pressure on the arterial walls
- Thrombolytic therapy, also called clot-busting drugs—if you have a blood clot that is interfering with blood flow, you may be given thrombolytic therapy to help dissolve the clot
There are also medications that may help improve blood flow to your limbs, decreasing pain and discomfort, which in turn allows you to be more mobile. Depending on the condition, your healthcare provider may also encourage you to make some lifestyle changes to slow down disease progression and reduce your risk of complications. Here are a few common ones:
Exercise. Your doctor or healthcare team should give you guidelines about what type of exercise and how vigorous it should be.
Healthy diet. Speak with a nutritionist about a heart-healthy diet and how you can incorporate diet suggestions into your everyday life.
Stop smoking if you smoke. If you’ve already tried to quit without success, your doctor is a great resource to connect you with an effective treatment plan.
Following your treatment plan for vascular disease is important to reduce the risk of complications and disability. These are a few complications that could result from untreated vascular disease:
Stroke due to blocked carotid arteries
Heart attack due to blocked coronary arteries
Amputation due to decreased blood flow to the limb
Slow to heal wounds, increasing risk of infection
Pain in the affected limb
Vascular disease is treatable. Speak with your doctor about your treatment options so you can choose the best plan for your situation.