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Vascular Disease and Pain

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 28, 2019

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.

The following conditions fall under the category of vascular disease.

How Does Peripheral Artery Disease Cause Pain?

Peripheral artery disease refers to a buildup of fat and cholesterol deposits (plaque) in blood vessels outside your brain and heart. As the arteries narrow, less blood flows until there may not be enough blood flow to the body’s tissue, a condition called ischemia. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can cause various symptoms.

  • Blockage in the legs can lead to leg pain or cramps with activity (a condition called claudication) and changes in skin color. Pain may also stem from sores or ulcers as well as from total loss of blood flow, which could lead to dying tissue (gangrene) and in serious cases, even the 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. This may not cause pain or other obvious symptoms, except possible discomfort due to fluid retention. (Less often, a genetic defect can interfere with tissue development in the renal arteries. This type of renal artery disease occurs in younger age groups.)

How Does an Aneurysm Cause Pain?

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.)

 A sudden, painful headache is the most common symptom of an aneurysm. But you may also have:

  • Pain in the lower belly or back
  • Pain the chest or upper back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Swelling of the neck
  • Vision changes

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Vascular Disease Overview."

Vascular Disease Foundation.

MedlinePlus: "Vascular Diseases."

American Heart Association: “What is an Aneurysm?”

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