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Year In, Year Out: How the effects of aging increase the risk for vascular disease
Omar P. Haqqani, MD
Midland Daily News
May 7, 2017
As years pass, and our age naturally increases, we become increasingly familiar with the effects that coincide with getting older – dealing with weight gain, drier skin, food tasting and smelling different, and changes in appearance.
However, not many are familiar with how the effects of aging can relate to vascular disease, and how, when individuals reach certain ages, the likelihood of developing specific vascular conditions rises.
With that being said, patients should be aware that, once they hit a certain age, or range of ages, the likelihood of developing certain vascular conditions increases drastically.
For example, typically between the ages of 30 and 70, varicose and/or spider veins are more likely to develop.
Over time, blood has the ability to pool in the leg veins of the body, which in turn, causes blood vessels to stretch. When this stretching occurs, the veins’ inner walls weaken, which can damage the valves that accept the blood that flows in and out, causing varicose and spider veins to form.
The difference between varicose and spider veins is largely based on how visible they are through the skin. Varicose veins visibly bulge through the skin, appearing blue and twisted, while spider veins are a smaller collection of red, blue, and purple lines under the skin.
After diagnosed through a physical examination to help determine the vein’s texture and color, in most cases, both varicose and spider veins are easily treatable, without surgical intervention being necessary.
Additionally, when patients reach the age of 50, the risk of developing both peripheral vascular disease and stroke also increases.
Otherwise known as atherosclerosis, peripheral vascular disease is a condition that causes the arteries to harden.
When this occurs, plaque builds along arterial walls due to the increasing presence of low-density lipoproteins, which interrupts blood flow in affected arteries.
To help diagnose peripheral vascular disease, a physician will perform both a physical examination and various tests to determine the cause and location of the arteries affected by the condition.
Symptoms that are often associated with peripheral vascular disease include non-healing wounds or ulcers over pressure points, loss of pulse in the legs or feet, burning or aching pain in the legs while lying flat, and numbness, weakness, or heaviness in muscles.
In cases where peripheral vascular disease has affected either one or both carotid arteries, the vascular connection to the brain, stroke has the potential to occur as a result of either partial or complete blockage.
Finally, aortic aneurysms, in both the abdominal and thoracic regions, are more likely to occur in patients who are 55 or older (TAA) or 65 or older (AAA).
The aorta is widely known as the largest artery in the body, and is responsible for carrying blood from the heart to all connecting arteries, supply the body with the necessary amount of oxygenated blood.
An aortic aneurysm occurs when any of the three aortic segments balloon or bulge, referring to either the ascending aorta, aortic arch, or descending aorta. The medical terminology behind “abdominal” and “thoracic” aortic aneurysm applies to which region the condition occurs.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm can be diagnosed through a number of tests, though it is possible that no symptoms may be present until the aneurysm has significantly enlarged, has leaked or ruptured.
In order to confirm diagnosis in cases of a suspected abdominal aortic aneurysm are an abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography scan (CT scan), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
A thoracic aortic aneurysm may also be diagnosed using a CT scan or MRI, as well as an echocardiogram, transesophageal echocardiogram, or chest x-ray.
When treating either abdominal or thoracic aortic aneurysm, two options are present for surgical intervention: Traditional open or endovascular repair.
In a traditional open repair, once an incision is made into the chest above the breastbone, the aneurysm is opened, and a graft is placed within the aorta to repair it.
In an endovascular repair, however, the approach is less invasive, as catheters are inserted under x-ray guidance and used to pass into aneurysm to reline the weakened area of the aorta.
Regardless of your age, the greatest favor you can do for your health is to not only take care of yourself, but to also stay aware of any and all conditions that may affect your body later in life. Staying one step ahead of a vascular condition could mean the difference between life and death.
For more information about how age acts as a risk factor for certain vascular conditions, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.
Dr. Omar P. Haqqani is the chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Vascular Health Clinics in Midland.
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