Arterial disease in the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs, the brain, the kidneys, or down through the torso is described according to the areas of the body it affects:
A build-up of plaque in the arteries delivering blood to the extremities (legs, feet, arms and hands) is the form of vascular disease most likely to produce noticeable symptoms. These include:
These forms of arterial disease often do not have obvious signs or symptoms until they reach a very serious or life-threatening stage.
It used to be that the operation needed to treat a buildup of plaque in the artery of the leg involved bypassing the artery—major surgery with a long incision, a 10-day hospital stay, and months of recovery.
Now, at AAMC, a procedure pioneered by vascular surgeon John Martin, M.D., Director of AAMC’s Vascular Program, can in many cases change the operation to one involving a two-inch incision, an overnight stay, and a weeklong recovery.
A build-up of plaque in the carotid artery (in the neck) causes a narrowing (stenosis) that restricts blood flow to the brain, which may eventually lead to a stroke, often with little or no prior warning. The symptoms of the narrowing of the arteries in the neck, when they do appear, may be temporary cerebral “events” (TIA – transient ischemic attack) due to a temporary blockage of a brain vessel, which may involve such symptoms as slurred speech, numbness or weakness on one side of the body, or short-term loss of vision in one eye. Or, there may be a complete absence of apparent symptoms of carotid stenosis. In either case, the condition is a significant risk factor for stroke.
Likewise, a build-up of plaque in the renal artery (leading to the kidneys) causes a narrowing (stenosis) that restricts blood flow to the kidneys. Typically, there are no symptoms of the narrowing of renal arteries, but the condition may lead to kidney failure, and in some cases may be the cause of high blood pressure.
An aneurysm (bulging or weakening) located in the aorta, though it may take years to form, often has no obvious symptoms. Yet if an abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptures, the consequences are serious and life-threatening. When and if they do appear, symptoms include a pulsating feeling in the abdomen, abdominal or back pain.