Vascular Health 101

Vascular health is all about good blood flow.

When a patient has obstructed blood flow, they can develop a range of vascular conditions from decreased circulation in limbs to blockages in the neck causing strokes to life-threatening aneurysms.

“Some causes for vascular diseases are beyond our control, like age and family history,” said Dr. Murray Shames, chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery at USF Health.

The good news is that there are ways to reduce the likelihood of developing or progressing vascular blockages and aneurysms by making simple lifestyle changes. “Adjustments to some of our day-to-day habits can reduce our risk for conditions that lead to vascular disease, conditions that include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

As a vascular surgeon, Dr. Shames said he urges everyone to minimize the risk factors that contribute to vascular disease. “The additional benefit,” he adds, “is that these practices also improve the lives of our patients.”

Stop Smoking
This habit puts smokers at risk for all forms of vascular disease. The toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke cause damage to the lining of arteries over time. The result of this is scarring and hardening of the arteries, which can lead to narrowing and blockages of the arteries, resulting in a range of vascular conditions. Damage to the arteries can also weaken the arteries, resulting in aneurysm formation, which can lead to a life-threatening rupture of the arteries. When patients quit smoking through smoking cessation programs, as well as over-the-counter and prescription medications, it can improve vascular health.

Exercise
Maintaining an active lifestyle can help improve circulation if you have vascular blockages, and improve the patient’s overall fitness. If you have been diagnosed with a condition called claudication, which is pain with walking due to narrowed or blocked arteries, your vascular surgeon may recommend a supervised exercise program to help increase circulation and improve your walking distances. If you have been diagnosed with an aneurysm, a low impact exercise option may be recommended by your vascular surgeon.

Cholesterol
Embracing a healthy diet that is low in saturated fats can reduce your cholesterol which contributes to the progression of vascular diseases. Embrace a healthy diet of lean meats, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables to impact your overall health. In many cases a medication may be necessary to help reduce your cholesterol, particularly if you already have evidence of vascular disease.

Diabetes
People with diabetes are at increased risk for developing arterial blockages, particularly in the small vessels of the leg and feet. This can result in neuropathy, a burning or painful discomfort of the feet, as well as the development of wounds and poor wound healing. Close monitoring and control of blood sugar can reduce your risk of progressing vascular disease.

Family History
If you have a family history of vascular conditions, particularly aneurysm disease, we recommend screening, which includes a non-invasive ultrasound of the abdomen to look for abnormal enlargement of the aorta, the largest artery in the body. Often, when a small aneurysm is identified, a physician will recommend monitoring for changes in size of the aneurysm. Surgery may be recommended for larger aneurysms or those that are increasing in size or causing symptoms.

On a positive note, not all vascular disease requires immediate surgery. In some cases, you may be a candidate for innovative endovascular procedures using catheters and stents in the arteries. In other cases, the best option may be surgery. It is important to have a conversation with a vascular surgeon about the risks and benefits of each approach, and together you can decide upon the best option to treat your vascular disease.

When your vascular disease is impacting your quality of life, call the vascular health team at USF Health at (813) 974-2201. And for more information, check out our Health & Wellness Facebook Life Series with vascular surgeon, Dr. Shames.

Written By: Kathleen Rogers