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The Benefits of Vascular Screening
Omar P. Haqqani, MD
Midland Daily News
November 20, 2016
The adage of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is no more evident than when it comes to screening for vascular disease.
Being proactive in your own healthcare is pivotal in managing overall good health. As we age, the importance of being proactive becomes increasingly vital. After the age of 50, your risks for developing vascular disease increase significantly, and continue to increase each decade thereafter.
One effective way to proactively manage your healthcare and monitor vascular disease is to talk to your healthcare provider about your benefits from vascular screening.
Numerous studies have supported early screening for vascular disease, which has translated into reducing complications of vascular illness and death. These simple diagnostic tests present no risk to you and provide a wealth of information to help keep you out of trouble.
Vascular disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S., and its presence may not be known until a catastrophic event occurs, such as an aneurysm rupture or stroke.
In my own practice, many patients were unaware of the extent of their disease until a hospital admission or acute event occurred. Pre-existing knowledge may in many instances have staved off the advancement and acute complications of vascular disease.
Unfortunately, millions of people remain unaware of their risk for stroke or death from vascular disorders, although preventive screening is routinely available.
Vascular screening is a quick and painless procedure that most insurances will cover with a physician’s referral. Utilizing ultrasound technology, a ten minute screening can provide a snapshot of your blood circulation – more specifically your carotid arteries, abdominal aorta, and the blood vessels to your legs.
Through this snapshot, it can be determined whether you have vascular disease, and to what degree, so that appropriate treatment can be directed.
Your healthcare provider may recommend vascular screening if you belong to one or more at-risk groups. This can include being over the age of 50, having a family history of stroke or heart disease, current or former smoker, being overweight, or having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.
Stroke alone is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and the number one cause of morbidity, yet strokes can largely be prevented through vascular screening of the carotid arteries and early intervention of diseased blood vessels.
Additionally, one in 20 Americans over age 50 has PAD – hardening of the arteries; however, around 50% have no knowledge of their condition. Those with PAD are at five times the risk of heart attack or stroke, and at three times the risk of death due to such an event than those without PAD.
Untreated PAD can also impair circulation to the legs, leading to a reduced ability to walk and possibly even amputation of limbs. Simple vascular screening can identify those with PAD and measures can be taken to slow or stop disease progression.
A carotid ultrasound measures blockages in the main arteries to the brain. This test is vital in determining your risk for stroke and highly recommended for long-time smokers and people who have chronic hypertension.
An aortic ultrasound measures the size of the aorta – the major artery that carries blood from the heart, through the abdomen and to the legs. This test is vital in diagnosing an abdominal aortic aneurysm – a bulging or ballooning of the aorta.
An ankle brachial index (ABI) screens for peripheral artery disease (PAD). If diagnosed, PAD can often be managed with medication and a few simple lifestyle changes; however, if need be, highly effective non-invasive outpatient procedures can be performed by a vascular specialist.
My development of a comprehensive vascular screening program in my own practice has detected significant disease in patients who were ticking time bombs for catastrophic strokes, or impending ruptured aneurysms or limb threatening conditions. The value of vascular screening is real and should be performed by a comprehensive program.
Getting screened is a vital step in ensuring vascular health. However, if you truly want to be proactive in your vascular health, adopting a few lifestyle changes can also make a difference. Lifestyle changes don’t need to be drastic, but they should be sustained.
Smoking cessation is one of the best things you can do to improve your vascular health. Amazingly, roughly two hours after your last cigarette, your blood pressure returns close to normal; at about 24-hours, your risk for coronary artery disease already begins to reduce; and after about a month, the cilia in your lungs begins to repair, which will help you to breathe better, as well as stave off lung infections.
Put simply, every second, minute, hour, day, month and year that you go without a cigarette, your body reaps the benefits.
Other lifestyle changes including maintaining a balanced diet, regularly exercising (as little as briskly walking for 30 minutes, three times a week), and managing high blood pressure and diabetes serve to improve your overall vascular health.
Through screening and lifestyle changes, you can be proactive in managing your vascular health and greatly increase your chances of avoiding complications from vascular disease in your lifetime.
Contact your primary care provider to determine if you would benefit from vascular screening.
Dr. Omar P. Haqqani, MD is the Chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Vascular Health Clinics in Midland.
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