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Trio of Tests Can Detect Vascular Disease Earlier

If you’re over 60, making time for three simple screening tests might just save your life.

Most people don’t understand how their vascular health can affect the body. People understand the risks associated with blockages in heart vessels, but the reality is that blockages in the vessels leading to your brain and legs can be just as limb-threatening.

The human vascular system is a complex arrangement of vessels that carry blood to specific parts of the body. Arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart, distribute blood throughout the body. Veins, smaller vessels, return blood to the heart.

Vascular problems occur when fat and cholesterol (plaque) build up on the artery walls. As plaque increases, the arteries harden and become narrow. Gradually, blood flow decreases and parts of the body are deprived of the oxygen they need to function properly.

That’s why it’s absolutely critical that you know your risk, get screened and take steps to improve your vascular health. Detecting vascular disease early can help prevent serious problems-like stroke or crippling leg pain-in the future.

Three of the most common non-cardiac vascular diseases – abdominal aortic aneurysms, carotid artery disease and peripheral arterial disease can be found through screening tests and then treated with minimally invasive surgery techniques.

According to the American Vascular Association, more than 15,000 Americans die of ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms each year. People with peripheral arterial disease are three times more likely than the average person to die of heart attacks or strokes.

Your risk for vascular disease goes up with age and familial history, so every person over 60 who has a family history of vascular disease should get screened. Diabetics and people who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or have ever smoked are also at elevated risk.

The tests, which take about 10 to 15 minutes combined, include a carotid artery ultrasound to detect blockages in the vessels that feed blood to the brain, an abdominal aorta ultrasound to identify aneurysms or “bulges” that indicate vessel weakness, and an ankle blood pressure test to detect blockages in the legs.

All the tests are noninvasive, so you’ll experience no pain or discomfort. But you’ll leave armed with information about your vascular health.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle – including regular exercise, ceasing to smoke, reducing cholesterol levels, controlling blood pressure and maintaining a healthy body weight – can reduce your risk for vascular disease.

The goal is to catch vascular disease early so that it can be treated before it begins to affect the patient’s quality of life.

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (2/7/06), a service of the Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2006.

For more information:

Go to the Vascular Surgery health topic.