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Clinical Specialties

The Vascular System & Vascular Disease

Vascular SystemVascular disease has a profound and wide reaching impact on the Australian population.  From painful, bleeding or thrombosing varicose veins to life threatening carotid and aortic aneurysm disease, it affects thousands of us every week.

Blocked and narrowed arteries from poor diet choices (sugar and processed foods) and smoking can affect vessels in the legs, causing painful walking (claudication) or in the neck (carotid) causing stroke.

Vascular surgeons specialise in treatments of every kind of vascular problem and vascular surgery is the specialty that deals with these problems. Many of the procedures now used to treat these complaints are highly effective, minimally invasive techniques.


Your Vascular System

The main artery from your heart is called the aorta and as the blood travels throughout your body it enters smaller and smaller blood vessels, dropping off nutrients and picking up waste products and carbon dioxide.

Your blood then travels back in your veins, entering larger and larger ones as it goes, passing through your kidneys and liver on the way to drop off waste products. The blood eventually arrives back at the right side of your heart to begin the process all over again.

As we get older, our arteries tend to thicken, get stiffer and narrower. This is called arteriosclerosis. A form of arteriosclerosis is called atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque and cholesterol in large and medium-sized arteries. A narrowing of the arteries from the build-up of plaque can lead to coronary heart disease and can cause a heart attack when this occurs in the blood vessels leading to the heart.  Arteries can also enlarge due to a weak area in the blood vessel, leading to an aneurysm.  Aneuysyms are dangerous because they can rupture, causing internal bleeding.

A narrowing of the arteries leading to the brain can cause strokes and where it occurs in other places, such as your legs, it can cause what is called Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) or Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD).

PAD or PVD is one of the three most recognised vascular diseases, along with Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) and Carotid Artery Disease (CAD).


Vascular Disease

Three of the most recognised vascular diseases include:

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) is a ballooning or bulge that occurs within a weakened area of the largest artery (aorta) that runs through the abdomen. When your heart beats it puts pressure on the weakened aortic wall, causing the aneurysm to enlarge. If the AAA remains unnoticed, the aortic wall will continue to weaken, and the aneurysm will continue to grow. When the aneurysm becomes too large and the walls are too weak, a rupture can occur causing massive internal bleeding, a situation that is usually fatal. The only way to break this cycle is to detect the AAA before it ruptures.

Carotid Artery Disease (CAD)

Carotid arteries occur when the main blood vessels to the brain develop a build-up of plaque causing hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. When this build-up becomes very severe, it can cause a stroke. A stroke occurs when part of the brain is damaged by these vascular problems. An “ischemic” stroke which accounts for almost 80 percent of all strokes is where part of the circulation to the brain is cut off, usually due to blockages in the carotid arteries. This process is likened to the build-up of plaque in the arteries of the heart that causes heart attacks.

Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) or Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) which can also been known as Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) happens when atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, causes a build-up of plaque in the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to all the tissues of the body. As the plaque gets worse, essential blood flow to the limbs reduces which can cause complete blockages of the arteries. In the early stages, PAD may only make walking difficult, but in more severe cases, it can cause painful foot ulcers , infections, and even gangrene, which could require amputation. People with PVD are three times more likely to die of heart attacks or strokes than those without PVD.

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