Diseases of the Blood Vessels

In general, blood vessel disease is a narrowing of the arteries and veins that carry blood to and from the arms, legs and abdomen. It is caused by a build-up of fatty deposits—or plaque—that narrows the vessels, depleting the supply of oxygen-rich blood to affected parts of the body. This can cause tissue and cell death which makes blood vessel disease the leading cause of amputations.

People over the age of 45 or who have family members with such heart or blood vessel diseases are at greater risk of developing diseases of the blood vessels. In addition, certain conditions such as diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and sedentary lifestyle can lead to blood vessel problems.

Symptoms of these diseases most often are observed in the arms, legs and abdomen and include:

  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Cold hands and feet and pale skin
  • Slight or no pulse in the feet or legs
  • Hair loss on the toes, feet and legs
  • Sores that take too long to heal or appear black when scabbed over
  • Skin and nails appear reddish-blue in color
  • Pain with exercise that goes away when you rest

The onset of blood vessel disease can be slowed or prevented with healthy lifestyle choices such as exercising every day, eating a diet low in fat and high in fiber, seeing your doctor regularly, having your blood pressure checked, managing your stress levels and quitting smoking.

Types of Blood Vessel Diseases

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most common type of blood vessel disease and is caused by increased pressure of the blood moving through the vessels. Hypertension can be life-threatening; however, it has several treatment options. This condition can lead to heart failure and stroke as well.

Other diseases of the blood vessels involve arteries and veins in different parts of the body. These can include coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease and peripheral venous disease as well as aneurysms. Blood vessel diseases in certain portions of the brain also can lead to dementia and other neurological ailments.

Treating Blood Vessel Disease

Because the blocked or narrowed blood vessels that cause the disease are so small, surgery is usually not a treatment option. Various medications can be prescribed to control the narrowing of blood vessels. These can include:

  • Nitroglycerin, to open up arteries and improve blood flow.
  • Ranolazine, to change sodium and calcium levels and ease chest pain.
  • Beta blockers, to slow heart rate and decrease blood pressure.
  • Calcium channel blockers, to relax the muscles surrounding coronary arteries.
  • Statins, to open vessels and increase blood flow.
  • Aspirin also can help limit inflammation and prevent blood clots from forming, but cannot be given to patients who might be taking blood thinning prescriptions for other cardiac conditions.