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The Heart and Vascular Disease

Vascular disease includes any condition that affects the circulatory system. As the heart beats, it pumps blood through a system of blood vessels called the circulatory system. The vessels are elastic tubes that carry blood to every part of the body. Arteries carry blood away from the heart while veins return it.

Vascular disease ranges from diseases of your arteries, veins, and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation. The following are conditions that fall under the category of vascular disease.

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Peripheral Artery Disease

Like the blood vessels of the heart (coronary arteries), your peripheral arteries (blood vessels outside your heart) also may develop atherosclerosis, the build-up of fat and cholesterol deposits, called plaque, on the inside walls. Over time, the build-up narrows the artery. Eventually the narrowed artery causes less blood to flow and a condition called "ischemia" can occur. Ischemia is inadequate blood flow to the body's tissue.

Aneurysm

An aneurysm is an abnormal bulge in the wall of a blood vessel. They can form in any blood vessel, but they occur most commonly in the aorta (aortic aneurysm) which is the main blood vessel leaving the heart. The two types of aortic aneurysm are:

Small aneurysms generally pose no threat. However, one is at increased risk for:

  • Atherosclerotic plaque (fat and calcium deposits) formation at the site of the aneurysm.
  • A clot (thrombus) may form at the site and dislodge.
  • Increase in the aneurysm size, causing it to press on other organs, causing pain.
  • Aneurysm rupture -- because the artery wall thins at this spot, it is fragile and may burst under stress. A sudden rupture of an aortic aneurysm may be life threatening.

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