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Vascular Disease and Pain

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 includes any condition that affects your circulatory system. This ranges from diseases of your arteries, veins, and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation. Vascular pain develops when the communication between blood vessels and nerves is interrupted or damaged due to vascular disease or injuries.

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The following conditions fall under the category of vascular disease.

Peripheral Artery Disease

Like the blood vessels of the heart (coronary arteries) and brain (cerebral arteries), the peripheral arteries (blood vessels outside your heart and brain) 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. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can cause various symptoms including the following:

  • Blockage in the legs can lead to leg pain or cramps with activity (a condition called claudication), changes in skin color, sores or ulcers, and feeling tired in the legs. Total loss of circulation can lead to gangrene and loss of a limb.
  • Blockage in the renal arteries (arteries supplying the kidneys) can cause renal artery disease (stenosis). The symptoms include uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart failure, and abnormal kidney function.

 

Aneurysm

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

  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm (part of aorta in the chest)
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm

Small aneurysms generally pose no threat. However, aneurysms increase a person's risk for:

  • Atherosclerotic plaque (fat, cholesterol, and calcium deposits) formation at the site of the aneurysm
  • The potential for a clot (thrombus) to form at the site and then dislodge
  • Increase in the aneurysm size, causing it to press on nerves or 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.)

Renal (Kidney) Artery Disease

Renal artery disease is most commonly caused by atherosclerosis of the renal arteries (see above). It occurs in people with generalized vascular disease. Less often, renal artery disease can be caused by a congenital (present at birth) abnormal development of the tissue that makes up the renal arteries. This type of renal artery disease occurs in younger age groups.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on August 01, 2013

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