September is Vascular Disease Awareness Month and Jane Todhunter, Vascular Nurse Practitioner, from North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, explains more including risk factors and how vascular disease can be managed.
Vascular disease is the collective term for diseases of the arteries, veins and lymphatics.
Every part of the body to which blood flows can be affected by it. It is as common as cancer and heart disease and accounts for 40 per cent of deaths in the UK, many of which are preventable.
Arterial diseases include; Aneurysmal disease where the wall of the artery weakens and bulges, carotid disease which causes transient ischaemic attacks (TIA’S) and stroke and peripheral arterial disease.
Jane said: “Peripheral arterial disease happens when the arteries which carry blood to the legs become narrowed and the blood flow to the muscles is reduced. It is a problem that affects up to nine per cent of the population and is associated with aging. It may be present without causing any symptoms.
“Arteries carry blood away from the heart to all the parts of the body to supply the tissues and muscles with oxygen and nutrients. The inside of the arteries should be smooth allowing the blood to flow freely but over time there can be a build- up of fatty deposits known as plaque which narrow the artery and restrict the flow of blood. This process is called atherosclerosis.
“One of the first symptoms is cramping in the leg muscles when walking that eases with rest. It is most common in the calf muscle but may also occur in the thigh and buttock. This is called intermittent claudication.
“As the disease progresses and the amount of blood reaching the feet is reduced further, you may develop pain in your toes and feet at night when they are up in bed, known as “rest pain”.
“This is due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients reaching the tissues to keep them healthy and the skin is at risk of breaking down and developing ulcers. Hanging the affected leg out of bed may ease the pain as gravity helps the blood flow to the foot.”
Many of the risk factors for PAD can be reduced by changing your life style:
- High Cholesterol
- Diet and Weight
Most people with mild to moderate PAD will be treated this way by;
Managing risk factors, including high blood pressure
Anti-platelet medication (prevents blood clots forming on the atherosclerosis inside your arteries)
Taking regular exercise
Statins (drugs used to lower cholesterol levels)
Those with severe PAD may require a balloon angioplasty or stent to stretch the artery.
This is an operation that involves attaching a tube (graft) above the blocked part to the artery to below the diseased artery to create a new pathway for the blood to travel to the foot.