Vascular Screening: The Benefits of Planning Ahead

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Being safe rather than sorry


Through virtually any aspect of the medical field, any doctor or specialist will echo the same sentiment: Actively participating in any sort of preliminary test of human health is incredibly beneficial, and can help detect any early stages of disease. For many, screening processes typically come when a patient begins to experience symptoms of a suspected illness. While this can be helpful in diagnosing conditions, in some cases, it's not always caught in time to where the condition is fully curable.

This scenario perfectly describes the importance of engaging in health screenings, either through check-ups at your next doctor appointment, or offered at local community events that specialize in providing preliminary services. All aspects of the human body should be considered, with the vascular system being no exception.

With that being said, there are numerous benefits to undergoing vascular screening, and there are three prominent methods of this service that are prominently used - all available at Vascular Health Clinics' facilities.


What are the benefits?

There are many benefits to undergoing a vascular screening, but the most valuable reason is that it allows you to be actively engaged in your health. With the ability to identify vascular health issues that may otherwise slip under the radar, vascular screening can be extremely valuable to your health, and acts as a key component in managing ailments that may arise.

Whether it's learning about the first signs of stroke, or detecting a condition well in advance, such as an aneurysm or peripheral vascular disease, vascular screening is able to detect these conditions early on, and prevent serious health complications.

You may be asking yourself right away - now that I'm aware of the major benefits of having a vascular screening done, am I in a demographic where this process is more important to undergo than others? If this is the case, you should know that there are a few different demographics that members of at-risk vascular conditions are recommended to take part in.

  • 50 years or older
  • History of diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactive
  • Smoking or use of tobacco products
  • History of stroke
  • Coronary artery or heart disease

Additionally, if you find yourself experiencing symptoms, such as leg pain, difficulty walking, shortness of breath, or chest pain, you should immediately mention these to a doctor as soon as possible, who will keep them in mind when undergoing in a vascular screening.

Three Types of Vascular Screening

 

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Carotid Ultrasound

A carotid ultrasound measures blockages in the two main arteries to the brain, which help to supply oxygenated blood so the organ can work properly. The test is recommended for people with high blood pressure and, in certain cases, can be extremely valuable in diagnosing any potential risk for stroke.
 

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Aortic Ultrasound

In an aortic ultrasound helps to measure the size of the aorta - a major artery located in the stomach area, which acts as the largest blood vessel in the body. An aortic ultrasound can be helpful in diagnosing an abdominal aortic aneurysm. It is highly recommended that patients over the age of 65 or older, particularly those who have ever smoked, undergo an aortic ultrasound, due to an AAA's prominence in that age range.
 

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Ankle Brachial Index

Lastly, an ankle brachial index helps to measure blood pressure using cuffs on the arms and above the ankles to diagnose peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a hardening of the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, that can lead to various vascular-related conditions.

Stroke Awareness: The Risk Factors that Lead to Carotid Artery Disease

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Detecting Early and Diagnosing Quickly


Stroke, like many conditions affecting the vascular system, can do detrimental damage to not just your blood vessels, but to the entire body, if left unmonitored or uncontrolled. The effects of a stroke directly affect the brain, which, as the control center of the brain, can ultimately affect other systems in the body, resulting in a loss in motor skills, speech, balance, or memory. Not only this, but of the 42 million strokes that occur each year, over 6 million will result in death.

Stroke is caused by plaque blockage in either one or both of the carotid arteries, the vascular connection leading to the brain. Blood flows through the aorta (the largest artery in the body) to the carotid arteries, one on either side of the neck. Due to a number of risk factors, plaque can begin to buildup in the arteries, causing them to narrow and stiffen. Often irregular and misshaped, these plaque deposits can collect in the narrowed areas. When this happens, decrease blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain occurs, causing a stroke.

However, if caught early, stroke doesn't have to have a place in a vascular lifestyle - the best way to assure this is to know the best methods of stroke prevention, diagnosis, and risk factors for the carotid artery disease that can lead to stroke.


Risk Factors for Stroke

There are numerous risk factors for stroke development, all of which coincide with the effects of peripheral vascular disease - the condition that clogs the carotid arteries. Though the main reason for stroke development is the result of plaque build-up in the inner walls of the arteries, specifically when low-density lipoproteins (the "bad" type of cholesterol) invade the arterial wall, it isn't until a prior risk factor results in the formation of the condition.

With this, there are a wide array of risk factors that can contribute to the development of peripheral vascular disease, which can ultimately lead to stroke:

  • Age - Being greater than 50 years old is a major risk factor for PVD.
  • Gender - Male patients are more likely to develop PVD and stroke than women.
  • Diabetes / Impaired Glucose Tolerance
  • Postmenopausal women - Though men are more likely to develop PVD/stroke than women, women that are postmenopausal have a higher likelihood than women who aren't.
  • Family History - If high cholesterol, hypertension, carotid artery disease, or PVD runs in the family, the condition is more likely to develop.
  • Coronary artery / Heart Disease
  • High Cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity / Physical Inactivity
  • Smoking / Use of Tobacco Products

Methods of Diagnosis

There are numerous methods of diagnosing stroke, both before and after peripheral vascular disease blocking blood flow to the brain occurs. In most cases, initial diagnosis is made through a combination of physical examination, diagnostic testing, and report of symptoms. However, often times, the symptoms initially start as a mini-stroke, whose telling signs typically last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours before subsiding. If any of these symptoms occur, however, call 911 immediately and have someone take you to the ER:

  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling on one side of the body, often in an arm or leg
  • Paralysis or loss of coordination on one side of the body
  • Drooping on one side of the face or by the mouth
  • Blindness or change in vision in one eye
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of speech or garbled, slurred speech, difficulty using tongue
  • Inability to write or understand writing
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Loss of consciousness or "black out"

In order to confirm diagnosis, there are various methods of testing available:

  • Carotid artery duplex ultrasound
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Computed tomography scan (CT)
  • Angiogram or arteriogram

How Does Age Play a Factor in Vascular Disease?

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Being aware of the effects of aging


As the years pass, and our age naturally increases, many are familiar with the effects that coincide with getting older. Dealing with weight gain, differences in appearance, and noticeable changes to aspects of our lives, such as drier skin, foods tasting or smelling different than usual, are all relatively well-known effects of getting older. Having said that, an aspect of getting older that many aren't as familiar with are the numerous vascular conditions that one can develop. At varying ages, a prevalent risk factor for the development of vascular disease is age. However, it isn't until someone reaches a particular age range that this risk factor becomes a serious threat or concern to one's health. Because of this, we will discuss below the various ages that vascular conditions can become more prominent.


30-70

Typically between the ages of 30-70, varicose and/or spider veins tend to develop. Over time, blood can pool in the leg veins of the body, causing the blood vessels to stretch. Due to this stretching, the inner wall of the veins can weaken, damaging the valves, and causing varicose and spider veins to form. Varicose veins are visible through the skin as bulging, bluish twisted veins, while spider veins are much milder - a small collection of red, blue, and purple lines under the skin. Typically diagnosed through a physical examination to determine the texture and color of the veins, as well as how they fill with blood, spider and varicose veins are, luckily, very treatable, and often times, surgical intervention isn't necessary.

50+

At the age of 50, age begins to act as a serious risk factor towards the development of peripheral vascular disease and stroke. As the aging process progresses, people are naturally put at a higher risk of developing PVD, otherwise known as atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries. Through this condition, plaque builds along the inner walls of arteries, due to the increasing presence of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, otherwise known as the "bad" cholesterol), causing interrupted blood flow in arteries. As a result, if one or both carotid arteries (the vascular connection to the brain) become partially or completely blocked, stroke has the potential to occur as well.

55-65+

Thoracic and abdominal aortic aneurysm have a more likely chance of developing in patients that are 55-65+ years of age, respectively. For those unaware, the aorta is the largest artery in the body, carrying blood directly from the heart and branching to all other major arteries, spreading all over the body. The aorta is located in the chest, and made up of three major segments: The ascending aorta, aortic arch, and descending aorta. When any of these aortic segments balloon or bulge, it means an aortic aneurysm has taken place, with the specific name of "abdominal" or "thoracic" referring to which section the aneurysm specifically affects. If left untreated or unmonitored, the aortic aneurysm eventually reaches a point to where it loses its ability to stretch any further, resulting in rupture, which can cause life-threatening bleeding.

Why Do I Have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?


Pinpointing the cause of the condition


When diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a number of varying symptoms and side effects are able to form as a result. From a weakening grip, to a sharp pain and/or aching feeling in the hands, neck, or shoulder, there’s no end to the potential effects that the condition can have on its host. Not only this, but cases of thoracic outlet syndrome that deliberately affects the arteries and veins under the collarbone via compression bring on another set of symptoms, including:

-       Cold fingers, hands, or arms

-       Numbness or tingling in the fingers

-       Weakness in the arms or neck

-       Arm pain or swelling

-       Discoloration of the hand (bluish color)

-       Weak or no pulse in the affected arm

-       Lack of color in one or more fingers

-       Throbbing lump near the collarbone

When coming to grips with a diagnosis of this condition, many afflicted with thoracic outlet syndrome will naturally wonder how and why they developed the disease. In most diagnosed cases of thoracic outlet syndrome, it is typically due to one of five reasons: Trauma, repetitive activity, anatomical defects, poor posture, or pregnancy.


1. Trauma

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome has the ability to be brought on through a traumatic event, like a car accident, and is typically cause by a strong blunt force to nerves in the thoracic outlet. In this case, nerves can be compressed, causing pain, swelling, and numbness as a result. However, in cases of traumatic events, the onset of symptoms is typically delayed.

2. Repetitive Actions

Those who frequently engage in activities where similar motion of the hand, arms, or shoulders is used, either through work, hobbies, or sport-related activities, have a more likely chance of developing thoracic outlet syndrome. Because many occupations require consistent movement of the hands or arms, many cases of thoracic outlet syndrome are in part to this reasoning.

3. Anatomical Defects

In some cases of thoracic outlet syndrome, a congenital defect may be the result of the condition’s appearance. Defects that may have this effect on patients can range from an extra rib located above the first rib, or an abnormally tight fibrous band connecting the spine to the rib.

4. Poor Posture

Maintaining a poor posture throughout the day, whether it be through sitting or standing improperly, can contribute to the development of thoracic outlet syndrome over time. Thankfully, improving posture as a preventative method is easy to correct. Simply avoid drooping your shoulders or maintaining your head in a forward position, making sure not to compress the thoracic outlet area, to help improve your poster and lower the risk of developing TOS.

5. Pregnancy

Finally, women who are pregnant have the tendency to develop thoracic outlet syndrome due to joints becoming much looser during pregnancy, as well as through weight gain in places that put unexpected pressure on these areas. In certain cases, thoracic outlet syndrome during pregnancy may also be caused by a deep vein thrombosis, due to extra pressure being put on the deep vein systems in the legs during this period.

The 3 Medications Prescribed for Treating Raynaud's Syndrome

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Treating constriction through medication
 

Raynaud's Syndrome: The condition ultimately affects many each year, but few are aware of its harsh effects.

In the case of Raynaud's Syndrome, the condition causes the body's smaller arteries to constrict due to spasms limiting blood flow to certain areas of the body - most commonly the nipples, fingers, ears, toes, knees, and nose. When spasms occur, a numbing, painful feeling occurs, and the afflicted areas turn white, blue, and finally red once blood flow returns. Most episodes of Raynaud's Syndrome typically last a few minutes, but some have reported episodes lasting up to several hours.

When Raynaud's is developed, either your medical doctor or vascular specialist will recommend a necessary method of treatment to undergo in order to limit the pain and symptoms brought on by the condition. Depending on the extent of the disease, you'll be opted a number of different methods - one of which is a medication regimen.

After being prescribed by either your doctor or vascular specialist, you'll typically be given one of three types of medication to aid in subsiding the effects of Raynaud's Syndrome, which we will discuss below.


1. Calcium channel blockers

Calcium channel blockers are able to treat a variety of conditions, from chest pain to hypertension, and can also be used to lessen the effects of Raynaud's Syndrome. Calcium channel blockers help to do just what their name implies: Prevent calcium from entering the heart and blood vessel walls' cells. Additionally, they also help to widen and relax blood vessels which, in turn, affect the muscle cells in the arterial walls.

When calcium channel blockers do this, they're able to help slow the user's heart rate, reduce blood pressure, alleviate chest pain, and control an irregular heartbeat. In relation to Raynaud's Syndrome, it means they're able to allow for increased blood flow back to the smaller arteries cut off from the condition.

Examples of calcium channel blockers include, but are not limited to: Amlodipine (Norvasc), Diltiazem (Cardizem, Tiazac), Felodipine, Isradipine, Nicardipine, Nifedipine (Adalat CC, Afeditab CR, Procardia), Nisoldipine (Sular), Verapamil (Calan, Veralan).

2. Alpha Blockers

Alpha blockers, though work through different means, alleviate the effects of Raynaud's Syndrome through relaxing the blood vessels, particularly smaller vessels, to help them remain open. The way the medication works is through keeping the hormone norepinephrine from keeping the walls of smaller arteries and veins from tightening. In turn, this causes the blood vessels to remain open and relaxed, improving blood flow, as well as lowering blood pressure as a result.

Alpha blockers are divided into both short-acting and long-acting forms of medication - the former work quickly, but their effects don't last as long, while the latter is the exact opposite. The prescription for either of these medications will largely depend on your health and the extent of the condition's severity.

Examples of alpha blockers include, but are not limited to: Doxazosin (Cardura), Prazosin (Minipress), and Terzosin.

3. Vasodilators

Vasodilators are medication that help widen the blood vessels in areas affected by Raynaud's Syndrome, allowing for blood to flow back through places that were once not possible. The method in which vasodilators do this, however, varies from medication to medication; Some vasodilators affect the smooth muscle cells lining blood vessels directly, while others affect the vasomotor center, located within the medulla oblongata in the brain, helping to regulate blood pressure.

In addition to Raynaud's Syndrome, vasodilators have been proven to be affective in treating hypertension, heart failure, and chest pain as a result of reduced blood flow to the heart.

Vasodilators typically come in three different variations: Arterial dilators (affecting arteries), Venous dilators (affecting veins), and mixed dilators (affecting both). Depending on your particular type of the condition, your doctor or vascular specialist will be able to recommend what is right for you.

Detection & Diagnosis: The 4 Means of Locating Aortic Aneurysms

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Before rupture occurs

In cases of suspected aortic aneurysms, either in the abdominal or thoracic region, the outcome can be deadly if not detected early. An aortic aneurysm is when a bulge occurs on a portion of the aorta - the main artery of the body. The bulge, stretching and weakening the aorta, is prone to bursting, which can cause to life-threatening bleeding and death. Aortic aneurysms can be caused through a multitude of factors, but are usually the result of prior medical conditions, such as hypertension or atherosclerosis, which ultimately lead to the arterial walls weakening. Aortic aneurysms can be detected through many symptoms, all of which range from patient to patient. In most cases, an aneurysm can cause pain in the stomach, chester, or back, which worsens if an aneurysm ruptures.

Though the potential rupture of an aneurysm can seem daunting, it's important to recognize that either your medical doctor or vascular special is able to tap into a wide number of tests to help detect and diagnose either abdominal or thoracic aortic aneurysms before they progress or rupture. With that said, here are some of the methods of testing that can be used for diagnosing aortic aneurysms.


1. Abdominal Ultrasound

In order to evaluate the progress and development of abdominal aortic aneurysm, an abdominal ultrasound may be performed to evaluate how the various structures of the abdomen are responding. The process itself is usually recommended for men from the ages of 65 to 75 that are current/former cigarette smokers, but can be highly useful when it comes to detecting abdominal aortic aneurysms. However, abdominal ultrasounds typically aren't recommended for men who have never smoked, nor women, unless an aneurysm is suspected by your doctor.

2. Computed Tomography Scan (CT scan)

Early detection of either abdominal or thoracic aortic aneurysms can be aided by a computed tomography scan (CT scan). Like an abdominal ultrasound, a CT scan is typically administered to individuals between the ages of 65 and 75 to help identify potential problems with the abdominal region. In the 66 years that has passed since the CT scan was first developed in 1951, abdominal aortic aneurysms have been diagnosed through this method of testing, using a series of X-ray images from multiple angles.

3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Similar to a CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is incredibly helpful for diagnosing abdominal and thoracic aortic aneurysms. Using a technique that utilizes radiology, pictures are taken to assess the region where the aneurysm is located, as well as its severity. Many believe that CT scan technology is superior to MRI's, more so for the way that CT technology functions (it's quieter, more convenient, and takes less time to process).

4. Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram is another example of ultrasound technology, but is specifically used for studying the heart. More specifically, a transthoracic echocardiogram or transesophageal echocardiogram are used in the study of diagnosing thoracic aortic aneurysms. Through this test, ultrasound waves are used to detect the action of the heart, later producing a visual representation of the aneurysm in question.

The 5 Most Prominent Risk Factors for Vascular Disease

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Stopping disease at the source

 

Vascular disease is able to develop in many different ways through both preventable and unpreventable means. For some, it's as simple as being born from a family blood line that has a previous history with vascular conditions - for others, it's about controlling their own risk factors, like not choosing to smoke, drink alcohol, or eat a high-fat or high-sodium diet. 

However, in many cases of vascular disease development, it often stems from a variety of previously developed conditions - yet few recognize, without already knowing, what those conditions that can cause vascular disease until it's too late. With that being said, in order to help increase the education of these prior conditions that can ultimately result in others, here are the five most prominent risk factors for the development of vascular disease.


1. Heart Disease

Because of the heart's incredibly vital connection to the vascular system (the heart pumps oxygenated blood through the arteries, circulating all throughout the body, and veins bring the oxygen-poor blood back to the heart to be supplied again), it's undeniable that any condition affecting the organ will have a devastating effect on the vascular system as a result. Heart disease, in any of its forms, can result in a variety of vascular conditions, including abdominal or thoracic aortic aneurysm, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, and renal artery stenosis.

2. High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, can result in a number of vascular diseases, including peripheral vascular disease, stroke, mesenteric ischemia, or renal artery stenosis. If high blood pressure is persistent enough in the body, the abnormal elevation of pressure in the arteries can result in extensive damage - damage that affects nearly 50 million people per year.

3. Infection

Infection is another way to contract vascular conditions - whether it's the result of a previously developed condition, or through an isolated incident, such as injury or surgery. When unwanted outside sources come into contact with the blood stream, they are able to travel throughout the vascular system, wreaking havoc on the arterial walls - a common source for the development of many vascular conditions, including mesenteric ischemia, mesenteric venous thrombosis, renal artery stenosis, abdominal and thoracic aortic aneurysm, etc.

4. Cancer

Cancer is a major risk factor for multiple forms of vascular disease, including deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. In the case of either of these conditions, cancer is able to cause irregular blood clotting within a deep vein system (DVT). However, if a large enough blood clot in the deep vein system were to break off, travel, and dislodge in the lung, it can cause a pulmonary embolism - a condition that results in death in many instances.

5. Obesity

Finally, though to some, obesity may seem like a condition that is developed over time due to poor diet and lack of exercise, to others, obesity is a hereditary trait that can be passed down through a family bloodline. Because of this, if left unchanged, obesity is able to cause a plethora of vascular conditions as a result, including peripheral vascular disease, stroke, and spider or varicose veins.

Expanding Your Knowledge of Mesenteric Ischemia

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The multiple forms of intestinal disease

When looking at the many different vascular-related conditions that can affect the body, mesenteric ischemia is far from the most well-known disease of the bunch. While many conditions relate directly to an important organ or part of the body that we immediately recognize (pulmonary embolism in the lung, deep vein thrombosis in the leg, etc.), we tend to not think about conditions that can affect lesser-known parts of the body.

With that said, the effects of mesenteric ischemia can range from mild and treatable, to serious and harmful, depending on the particular subset of the condition. However, due to mesenteric ischemia going so under the radar by many people, few tend to know what the condition entails in general, let alone its various subsets. However, in order to understand these subsets, one must first understand the effects of mesentery ischemia.

Defining the Disease

Mesenteric Ischemia is defined by a blockage in the mesentery, which is a fold of membranes tissue attached to the intestinal tract, arising from the back wall of the peritoneal cavity. Basically, these are how the intestines get a supply of blood circulation. The condition itself occurs when a decreased blood flow to the mesenteric organs occurs, including the stomach, liver, colon, etc.

However, not many people realize that there are a few different variations of mesenteric ischemia that can occur in the body - all with different complications and levels of severity. These subsets include acute mesenteric ischemia, chronic mesenteric ischemia, and mesenteric venous thrombosis.

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia

Bringing sudden, permanent damage to the intestines, acute mesenteric ischemia occurs through a blockage of blood flow to the arteries, and requires immediate medical when it happens. Acute mesenteric ischemia can be caused by a multitude of conditions, including, but not limited to: A blood clot dislodging from the heart as a result of a prior condition, such as congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, or a heart attack; atherosclerosis; conditions causing low blood pressure, such as heart/kidney failure or shock; high blood pressure; illegal drug use; or blood clotting disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, or anti-phospholipid syndrome. Finally, treatment of acute mesenteric ischemia, done in emergency situations, is done through a mixture of narotic pain medication and thrombolytic therapy involving a clot dissolving drug, followed by intestinal surgical removal of the clot.

Chronic Mesenteric Ischemia

Chronic Mesenteric Ischemia, unlike Acute Mesenteric Ischemia, causes damage to the intestines through a casual narrowing of the arteries over an extended period of time, with a progressive demonstration of symptoms. These symptoms are typically experienced 15-60 minutes after eating, including changes in bowel movement frequency, as well as nausea, vomiting, and bloating. Many of the pre-existing conditions that cause acute mesenteric ischemia, however, can also cause chronic mesenteric ischemia, though atherosclerosis is more prominent in chronic's development. Finally, because chronic mesenteric ischemia is developed through an ongoing process, the treatment for the condition is different. Pain medication is initially given to help subside symptoms - however, if this doesn't solve the problem, either balloon angioplasty or a bypass surgery is undergone to help clear any blockage caused by the condition.

Mesenteric Venous Thrombosis

In another, unrelated type of mesenteric ischemia, mesenteric venous thrombosis occurs when blood can't leave the intestines, where a clot develops in the vein, draining deoxygenated blood from the intestines. When this occurs, blood can back up in the intestines, and swelling and bleeding can occur. Unlike the prior two conditions, mesenteric venous thrombosis can stem from different conditions, including acute or chronic pancreas inflammation; abdominal infection; bowel disease, including Chron's disease, diverticulitis, or ulcertive colitis; inherited clotting disorders; or trauma to the abdomen. Finally, mesenteric venous thrombosis is treatable, with treatment coming from a blood thinner regimen lasting 3-6 months, as well as surgery if the bowels appear to be damaged.

The Difference in Detection: 8 Methods of Diagnosing Pulmonary Embolism

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Traveling clots causing deadly results

Among the many conditions that can ravage our vascular health, a pulmonary embolism is among the most devastating if not detected early. For those unfamilar, a pulmonary embolism is brought on when a blood clot, as a result of deep vein thrombosis, dislodges and travels to the lung, where it blocks the supply of oxygenated blood to the organ. When this happens, often times, it can either mean severe health complications, or, depending on the severity of the condition, even death.

However, while the effects of a pulmonary embolism can be severe, there are many means of detecting the condition well in advance before its symptoms progress to an uncontrollable rate. All of these tests can be done by either a medical doctor or vascular specialist, and, through different means, are able to locate and detect the level of severity and threat to a patient.


1. Chest x-ray

Through the use of a small amount of ionizing radiation, a chest x-ray is utilized to provide an internal picture of the chest. Though chest x-rays are mostly known for diagnosing conditions in the heart and chest wall, as well as conditions such as fever, shortness of breath and trauma, they are also helpful in locating the development of vascular conditions, including pulmonary embolism.

2. Electrocardiography (ECG)

When performing tests to properly locate and diagnose a pulmonary embolism, one of the many processes that can be utilized is electrocardiography (ECG). Through a means of measuring and recording the heart's electrical activity over a designated period, electrocardiography can be utilized for many purposes, including the detection of a suspected pulmonary embolism.

3. D-dimer blood test

When attempting to detect where a blood clot has broken off, a d-dimer blood test can be extremely helpful in locating where a pulmonary embolism has dislodged in the heart. By measuring a substance in the blood that is emitted when a blood clot is knocked out of its original place of development.

4. Spiral computed tomography scan (CT)

Similar to an x-ray scan, a spiral computed tomography scan (CT) is a much more detailed process of gaining computer-generated scans of the chest, bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues in the body. Used to gain a better perspective on virtually any area of the body, a CT scan can be a very helpful, assuredly-helpful method of diagnosis for a pulmonary embolism.

5. Ventilation-perfusion scan (VQ)

In a more specific method of diagnosis, a ventilation-perfusion scan (VQ) helps to highlight if the correct air and blood flow is being circulated through the lungs. Through the use of this medical test, using radioisotopes to taken an internal, two-dimensional image of the affected area, a pulmonary embolism is able to be located.

6. Duplex ultrasound

Considered by many to be one of the most effective methods of locating and diagnosing a pulmonary embolism, an ultrasound is done through a method of sending ultrasonic frequency waves (i.e. vibrations), which reflect off the organs to produce a computer-generated image of the internal structure. Also referred to as sonography, ultrasound is considered to be a safer alternative to other tests, as it uses no radiation to develop images.

7. Pulmonary angiography

Through this method, angiography is done through a means of seeing if the proper amount of blood is flowing through the lung. In order to get a proper image inside of the artery, a special dye is used that circulates through the bloodstream.

8. Venography

Though venography carries many similarities to other forms of diagnosing pulmonary embolism, there is one major method of this x-ray-based test that allows for your doctor to see if blood flow is circulating correctly. In this process, an injection of radiative dye is given tot he patient, showing the level of blood flow in the lungs, while your doctor looks for where the blockage may be located.


Through one, or even multiple tests, if necessary, a pulmonary embolism can easily be located - however, it is important to know how these tests, individually or together, can affect you. For more information regarding tests for detecting a pulmonary embolism, contact your medical doctor of vascular specialist.

 

Controlling Blood Sugar for a Vascular-Friendly Lifestyle

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A diabetic-friendly lifestyle

Did you know that, as a health condition, type two diabetes not only poses serious threats to a general lifestyle, but can also be a major risk factor for changes to our central, respiratory, gastric, and, yes, our vascular systems?

Many of us are familiar with the numerous effects that arise from developing type two diabetes, such as high blood sugar and a resistance to/lack of insulin, and the many common symptoms of the condition, such as frequent urination, unexplained weight loss and increased thirst. However, there are also many long term effects that type two diabetes can cause, including vascular conditions, such as renal artery stenosis and thoracic aortic aneurysm. Additionally, impaired glucose tolerance is also a risk factor for the development of peripheral vascular disease and stroke, and, as a result of many of these conditions, diabetic ulcers can form.

Keeping this in mind, it's important to understand how those suffering from type two diabetes can help to control their condition, further preventing the spread of other diseases as a result. One of the many ways to do this is to control blood sugar levels from getting too high, thereby preventing subsequent conditions from forming. With that said, there are numerous ways that one can help to control their blood sugar.


Change Your Diet - Not only is it important to control the intake of foods that can cause high spikes in blood sugar, but it's also essential to increase the consumption of foods that can be beneficial for a person with type two diabetes. Nuts, for example, can help with the absorption - specifically almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. Though nuts can often be high in calories, they are a very helpful food to combat additional sugar in the diet.

Whole grains, such as rye, oat bran, and barley, are all high in soluble fiber, which can help to prevent spikes in blood sugar. However, whole grains are still high in carbohydrates, so they should be sparingly utilized as a preventable measure. Vegetables are also fiber-rich, specifically cucumbers, broccoli, and carrots, and can be eaten to help prevent blood sugar level spikes.

Utilize Additives - There are many additives that can be used with food that can help to control blood sugar spikes. Cinnamon is a great example of this - when added to your favorite coffee or treat, cinnamon can be an excellent way to get blood sugar levels to drop. It has also been shown that cinnamon may be responsible for stimulating insulin secretions in the pancreas.

Apple Cider Vinegar can also be utilized to improve blood sugar levels - it has been shown that just two ounces can help improve insulin sensitivity. 

Planning Your Day - Though there are many foods and additives that one can consume to improve blood sugar levels, a major way to improve these conditions is to simply plan your day, making sure that you're getting the proper nutrients, as well as finding a balance in your diet. First, don't skip meals - period. It is important to eat food consistently throughout the day so you're never experiencing symptoms of weakness or fatigue. Experts suggest those suffering from type two diabetes eat three healthy meals a day, as well as two nutritious snacks, to maintain stable blood sugar. Finally, if you drink alcohol, it's important to not drink on an empty stomach, as it can cause major drops in blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is important to either while or before you decide to drink. 


By following all of these helpful guidelines, having type two diabetes doesn't have to result in other vascular conditions. For more information about how type two diabetes can lead to the development of vascular disease, contact your vascular specialist or medical doctor.

A Life-Threatening Journey: The Deadly Effects of Traveling Blood Clots

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Education as a method of prevention


For many, blood clots tend to carry a negative connotation, due to their potentially damaging effects on the body. In many aspects, however, blood clots are a natural part of life, and, when formed correctly, can save someone from major blood loss after a dangerous injury.

In the proper life cycle of a blood clot, there are four steps that naturally occur. When a blood vessel is damaged, the first step is triggered, and the platelets in the blood are sent a signal to be sent to the source of injury. The platelets then fill the broken vessel to stop the bleeding by forming a plug. Next, the platelets release a set of chemicals attracting more platelets to reinforce the clot, solidifying its location. The clot continues to grow, as proteins send signals to acquire more and more platelets, using a long strand of fibrin to collect them all together. After the affected area is under control, the clot breaks down, with the platelets receding and fibrin dissolving.

Despite blood clots acting as a life-saving method of preventing massive blood loss, when blood clots form irregularly, it can result in a deep vein thrombosis – a condition where clots form in one of the deep vein systems of the body. Among all of the conditions that can occur in the vascular system, a deep vein thrombosis is among the most life-threatening – not only because of the damaging nature they can have from their initial development, but also because of their life-threatening effects if they’re able to travel to other parts of the body. Depending on where the clot dislodges and travels to, time could be limited. To fully examine the severity of this trend, it’s important to see how a clot’s location can result in varying levels of severity for those affected by them.

Lung

If a clot dislodges and travels to the lung, this is what is referred to as a pulmonary embolism. When a pulmonary embolism occurs, the supply of oxygenated blood can’t be provided throughout the lungs, increasing the blood pressure in the organs, and making it harder for your heart to pump blood. A pulmonary embolism can be extremely detrimental to a person’s health, if not deadly. If gone uncorrected and the heart continues to overwork, the organ could enlarge to the point where it is not able to perform.

A pulmonary embolism can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic many other diseases and conditions. However, key symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain and bloody cough, are telling signs of a pressing health risk that should be immediately addressed by a medical professional. Because pulmonary embolisms result from blood clots forming elsewhere in the body, preventing a pulmonary embolism is predicated upon preventing the formation of blood clots.

Brain

Similar to how a blood clot can affect the proper blood flow to the lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that dislodges and travels to the brain or carotid arteries leading to it, can cause a stroke. Located on either side of the neck, the carotid arteries help bring oxygenated blood from the aorta to the brain, allowing for appropriate function from the organ. When blood isn’t able to reach the brain, either through a blood clot or plaque build-up, a stroke has the potential to occur; decreasing oxygen and blood flow to the brain.

Typically, symptoms that are experienced by sufferers of this disease are usually weakness, numbness or tingling on one side of the body, memory loss or confusion, inability to write or understand writing, blindness or change in vision, loss of balance, loss of speech, etc. In cases of stroke, these symptoms do not subside quickly, and anyone experiencing them should call 911 right away and be taken to the ER.

Leg

Finally, blood clots that stay in the leg can still cause a multitude of health problems. In many cases, blood clots in the legs, especially those that form in the deep vein systems of the body, have the potential to cause severe pain, aching, and swelling in the affected limbs. In more severe cases, deep vein thrombosis can also worsen over time, causing ulcers and sores that are difficult to treat.

Those afflicted with deep vein thrombosis tend to have blood flow diverted to smaller arteries, affecting the tissues of the calf. When this occurs, the calf isn't able to get the proper blood flow required to function to the best of its ability. Furthermore, untreated blood clots in the legs can lead to blockage so severe that blood flow can be cut off entirely, resulting in potential amputation of the limb.


While the severity of a deep vein thrombosis can seem overwhelming, it’s important to realize that, if caught early, the condition is treatable. To learn more about how clots travel, contact your medical doctor or vascular specialist for more information. Given the right treatment, time, and consideration, a deep vein thrombosis, as well as the effects that can occur when clots travel throughout the body, doesn't have to affect your vascular health.

New Year, New You: Helpful Tips for Sticking with 2017 Resolutions

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Standing with your goals


Happy New Year! Upon clicking the link to this article, let me be among the first to welcome you to the year 2017!

As we begin to enter a new chapter of our lives, many of us will see the New Year as an opportunity to change our mindset and look at life from a new perspective. Whether it’s setting goals for ourselves to absorb more information, quitting habits that we see as a detriment to our lives, or simply finding more time to spend with the people we love, the idea of seeing January 1st as a fresh start is nothing new.

However, one of the biggest difficulties that many tend to face when making resolutions is being able to keep them. According to University of Scranton psychologist John Norcross, over half of resolutions made at the beginning of the year will be abandoned by June. However, in the same study, Norcross found that people that make New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to change, compared to those who don’t make an official decision to resolve during their year.

Short and sweet: Making a New Year’s resolution is only half the battle – the other half is finding the motivation to stick with it. With this in mind, where can someone find the motivation to keep their resolution for the entire year? Well, did you know that some of the most common New Year's resolutions not only have the standard benefit of improving your general well-being, but can significantly improve your vascular health as well?


Quitting Smoking

One of the most popular resolutions for both short and long-term tobacco users is also one of the most difficult for many to stick with. Due to the addictive elements found in many tobacco products, quitting smoking is a lot easier said than done for those looking to use it as their New Year’s resolution. However, with the right push, quitting smoking can provide numerous health benefits throughout the entire body, including the vascular system. When looking at contributing factors to the development of vascular disease, smoking puts individuals at a higher risk of developing both abdominal and thoracic aortic aneurysm, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, varicose/spider veins, renal artery stenosis, pulmonary embolism, and Raynaud’s syndrome.

Not only this, but smoking is also a major risk factor for heart disease, contributing to the hardening and narrowing of arteries through plaque production, and results in a higher risk of developing blood clots, heart attack and even limb loss.

If you decide to quit smoking as your resolution for the New Year, there are many ways you can ensure your plan goes fulfilled. One way that many have found successful is to build a quit plan – a systematic approach to slowly, but surely, abandoning smoking as part of an everyday lifestyle. Steps to succeeding include making a list of reasons of why you’ve made this decision, understanding the benefits and rewards of quitting, clearing any remnants of your past history of smoking, and finding help from others who also want you to succeed. For more helpful tips about how to quit smoking, click here.


Eating Healthier

Another popular resolution by many is to simply eat healthier – whether it’s to eliminate or lesser the excessive intake of high cholesterol foods, pursue healthier alternatives to fast food restaurants, discover new foods that better meet your nutritional needs, or some combination of the three.

A diet heavily comprised of high cholesterol foods is another major contributor to the development of vascular disease, as the high levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) can accumulate in the arteries over time, causing increased plaque build-up. If plaque builds up to a point of total blockage, a multitude of diseases have the potential to develop, depending on the location of the blockage. For example, plaque build up in either carotid artery, the vascular connection that brings oxygenated blood to the brain, can result in a stroke. For more information about the dangers of high cholesterol foods, click here.

When it comes to adopting a healthier diet, there are many alternatives to fast food, as well as many vascular super foods, that one can adopt to help come closer to their resolution. When it comes to fast food, eating healthy at your favorite restaurant doesn’t mean having to sacrifice taste or enjoyment. The majority of responsibility that rests on those looking to balance the convenience of fast food and a healthier year rests largely on two aspects: Eliminating high fat entrees, and portion control. For many restaurants, the effects of fast food aren’t nearly as damaging when not only analyzing their menus, but also applying it to their own diet. For more information about how to implement a more vascular friendly fast food diet, click here.

Finally, there are many vascular super foods that can help to develop a healthier version of you in 2017. Eating more foods that have low or moderate levels of vitamin K, for example, can help to synthesize proteins that aid in blood clotting. Foods such as kale, collards, spinach, turnips, broccoli, asparagus, green peas, and celery all fall into this category. Additionally, foods such as whole grain, pumpkin/sunflower seeds, garlic, root ginger and oranges, through different means, help to ameliorate vascular blood flow. For more information on healthy foods that can improve blood flow, click here.


Exercise More

Finally, in the same vein as eating healthier, many people who commit to resolutions that involve improving their overall health, exercise is often a key component of the equation.

There are many ways one can exercise in order to either lose weight or feel healthier, but one of the most effective methods is to develop a workout regimen with your physician. Aerobic and resistance workouts are recommended for fending off the development of plaque caused by high cholesterol, and can mark the initial stepping stones of fat and weight loss. Many specialists believe that, in order to bring the best results, just thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise, or 15 minutes a day of vigorous exercise, can make all the difference.

While every person is different in what they require for a workout, establishing a daily workout can make all the difference in the long run, especially when it results in feeling and living better.


All of these tips mark just some of the preliminary steps for ensuring your New Years resolutions go fulfilled in 2017. Though the road ahead may seem daunting, just remember the benefits of how you’ll feel in the long run – both in the short term of feeling healthier, and in the long term, knowing your vascular lifestyle is slowly becoming stronger than ever.

Traumatic Effects to Vascular Health

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Overcoming life-threatening injuries


When looking at the various explanations behind what causes vascular conditions to arise, trauma tends to be one of the most common. Because trauma is not only easy to develop, but has the ability to be brought on through a multitude of settings and situations, it has a natural place among the long list of vascular conditions. We hear the word on a regular basis, and use it to describe particularly distressing situations. (“That was traumatic!” “I was shocked and traumatized!”) However, the importance still rests on knowing how trauma occurs, and what short and long-term effects it can have on our vascular health.

Trauma, in the medical sense, is usually split into two categories: Major trauma and psychological trauma. The former relates to an injury where disability or death is a possibility, while the latter is more of a focus on damage to the psyche by means of an upsetting incident.  Major trauma is what can result in damage to the vascular system, depending on the area where the injury takes place, as well as its severity. Major trauma can occur in many different ways, including wounds by gunshot, car accidents, stabbing, or falls. Whenever an instance of trauma occurs, regardless of the severity, medical attention from a trauma center should be immediately sought out in order to assess the victims' injuries.

Two Variations

Blunt and penetrating trauma can both be responsible for complications associated with vascular health – blunt trauma refers to injury caused by direct impact, while penetrating trauma is an injury where the object impales and enters the body, resulting in an open wound. Blast injury is the combination of these two types of trauma, and is usually also accompanied by a burn injury.

Diagnosis

In instances of trauma, diagnosis of the injury is typically done through one of two processes. Physical examination is done in instances of life or death injuries, with an initial examination done to identify the problem, and a second examination to systemically assess if the injury affected other areas of the body, such as the abdominal, pelvic, and thoracic regions. Imaging processes may also be used to identify the severity of the injury – x-rays are often used for examining the chest and pelvic regions, and focused assessment with sonography for trauma (FAST) can be used to check internal bleeding, depending on the mechanism and presentation of injury. Additionally, surgical techniques can be used in cases of chest or abdominal trauma, specifically when victims are affected by shock.

Trauma & Vascular Health

Vascular trauma occurs when a blood vessel is injured through either instance, be it blunt or penetrating. For both abdominal and thoracic aortic aneurysm, trauma is listed as a possible cause for development. For both the abdominal and thoracic regions, when blunt trauma occurs, aneurysms may be produced by collisions that do not produce rib fracture or bruising of the chest wall. In many instances, automobile accidents cause this phenomenon, either to the driver when making contact with the steering wheel or dashboard during a crash, or a pedestrian being struck by a moving vehicle.

Deep venous thrombosis, a condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in the legs’ deep vein system, can also be a result of trauma. When an incident occurs, the inner lining of a vein can become damaged due to a multitude of factors, including immune responses, inflammation, surgery or serious blunt force injuries. Additionally, mesenteric venous thrombosis, a condition where a clot blocks blood flow to a mesenteric vein (the veins where un-oxygenated blood leaves the intestine) has the same potential to be caused by trauma to the abdomen. When blunt trauma occurs to the abdominal region through many of the same causes, the mesenteric veins’ inner lining can become damaged as a result, causing irregular blood clotting.


While the types and severity of trauma often differ depending on the incident and condition where injuries were brought on, it’s still important to recognize how specific types of traumatic injuries can affect vascular health. Though there isn’t one single solution to dealing with the major effects of injuries, there are many options that can help patients overcome their particular condition, and attempt to find normalcy in their daily life once again.

The Importance of Knowing Your Family History

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From one generation to the next

As the holiday season approaches, especially with Christmas and the New Year fast-approaching, we’re often reminded of many things – some good, some bad. We may be (but in Michigan, definitely are) subjected to colder temperatures and harsher winds, busier shopping malls, and the stresses of traveling. Not only that, but with 2017 around the corner, many of us will inevitably reflect on the past year, possibly with regrets on some of the choices we’ve made.

However, the holiday season is also a time for many other things. For some, it’s the opportunity to spend time with friends and family one may not get to see often. For others, it’s the opportunity to find just the right gift for their loved one and the ability to see their eyes light up with joy upon receiving it. And for many, it’s a chance to get wrapped up in the magic of the season in their own special way – getting to bake cookies, sing seasonally specific songs, decorate their homes, or simply spread a little cheer to their fellow man with a simple “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays.”

It's All in the Family

Though we may not all have someone close to spend the holiday season with this time of year, it’s always important to understand the connection that we have to our families – even when considering vascular health.

In many conditions, family history can be a contributing risk factor in the development of vascular disease, and being aware of your family’s past health can help identify any conditions that may arise in your own health.

Because our family members share their genes with us, as well as engage in the same environment, lifestyles, and habits, we directly inherit many of their health conditions as well. Vascular conditions, such as stroke, aneurysms, peripheral vascular disease, and deep vein thrombosis, as well as risk factors for these conditions, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, are as assignable of birth traits as eye color or dimples.

Former Patients & Family History

In the testimonials that we receive from our patients, many of the stories told by those who’ve suffered from vascular disease include family history as a common theme. Robert Barker, a Weidman resident who visited Vascular Health Clinics throughout this past year, attributed his arteriosclerosis diagnosis to his family history. However, because of his awareness of the disease in his bloodline, Robert was able to quickly determine the condition’s exact cause, and immediately let Dr. Haqqani know.

“I told my doctor he should send any patients like me that have a similar family history to Vascular Health Clinics,” Robert said.

In an upcoming testimonial, Marie Steele, a 79-year-old Prudenville resident, also attributed the plaque build-up in her left carotid artery to a family history, despite feeling normal prior to her diagnosis.

“I didn’t realize there was any blockage at all,” Marie said. “A history of stroke runs in my family, but I had been doing just fine without any symptoms at all.”

Improving Your Own Health

While there’s nothing one can do to change their genes, there are many ways that the negative aspects of your family history don’t have to define your own health. Making lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier, getting more exercise, or quitting smoking, can reduce the risk of diseases that run in your family. Remember, though, that even if there isn't a history of any major vascular conditions in your family, there could still be a possibility of risk, as these other factors can also contribute to the spread of vascular disease. To decrease your risk even further, it’s also important to actively engage in screening tests that have the ability to detect risk factors of disease, or the early stages of conditions, as another method of prevention.

However, more than anything, the most beneficial thing one can do to find out more about their family history is to simply talk to their family. Call your parents and ask them if there are any health risks that you should be aware of. Call your children and make them aware of any conditions that run in your bloodline. Have a conversation with your wife/husband, boyfriend/girlfriend, or partner, and ask them if there’s anything in their family history you should be aware of. Afterwards, write down any information you find and share it with your doctor or specialist for the most accurate snapshot of your family history.

As many of us begin to come together to celebrate the holidays, a perfect opportunity is provided for us all to have conversations with our family about any potential health concerns. Something as simple as a five-minute conversation could make all the difference when it comes to vascular disease, and being that much more aware could potentially save a life – even yours. Who knows? You may learn something you didn’t know before, and continue to build an even stronger relationship with your loved ones in the process.

And really, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Anticoagulant Therapy: Suffer No More from Improper Blood Clot Development

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A simple, lifesaving treatment


Blood clots, though often seen in a negative light because of the destructive nature they can have on the vascular system, are actually a healthy, vital part of the human body. When bleeding occurs, blood clots prevent massive bleeding from occurring through a four step process. The only way that blood clots can turn out to be a problem is when they irregularly form due to poor blood flow, and travel to other parts of the body. However, there are treatment options for those who suffer from conditions that are responsible for improper blood clot development.

Blood Clot Formation

A blood clot can only develop if all of the segments of its life cycle occur. First, when a blood vessel is damaged, a signal is immediately sent to platelets in the blood – infinitesimal bits that stick to the walls of the affected vessel. During this process, the platelets change shape to form a plug, filling the broken vessel to stop blood from leaking out. The next step begins when the platelets holding together the blockage release chemicals to help attract more platelets to the area – similar to how a military general will call in for reinforcements when backup is required.

As proteins in the blood send off an instantaneous chain reaction to acquire more platelets, the clot will continue to grow. When no more platelets are required, the signal stops and a long strand of fibrin is expelled to catch more platelets. The net of platelets and other relevant cells is taken to the area, making the clot stronger, as well as blocking off the affected area. Once there is no longer a cause for concern, other proteins in the blood offset extra clotting so the original clot doesn’t break off and travel to other parts of the body. Finally, the clot begins to slowly break down after the damaged tissue fully heals. As the platelets begin to break off, the fibrin that gathered all of the reinforcement platelets returns all of the used cells back to where they originated.

Conditions Caused by Blood Clots

Unintentional blood clots (i.e. not from an obvious wound or visible break in the skin) can form through a few different methods. In some cases, when plaque from cholesterol found in the arteries breaks open, the clotting process can be triggered. In other cases, slow or improper blood flow can also cause the formation of blood clots, as when platelets stick together, pools of blood can form in the heart or other blood vessels. Atrial fibrillation (an irregular, rapid heartbeat that causes poor flow) or deep vein thrombosis (blood clotting in the deep vein systems of the leg) are common conditions that arise when regular blood flow doesn’t take place. Furthermore, with deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot has the potential to break off and travel to other parts of the body – if the clot dislodges and makes its way to one of the lung’s veins, a pulmonary embolism will occur, and can be life-threatening.

Treatment Options

In most cases, one of two medications are traditionally applied for treating blood clots, though each drug has a different purpose. Some medications simply stop platelets from delivering signals to each other so they won’t stick together – Aspirin, Clopidogrel (Plavix), Dipyridamole (Persantine), Prasugrel (Effient), Ticagrelor (Brilinta) and Ticlopidine (Ticlid) are the most commonly used types of this drug. However, blood thinners can also be utilized, as they can make it difficult for the clotting processes to occur by preventing proteins from sending signals to form more platelets. Blood thinners that are typically prescribed include Apixaban (Eliquis), Dabigatran (Pradaxa), Edoxaban (Savaysa), Heparin, Rivaroxaban (Xarelto), Lovenox and Warafin (Coumadin).

Through anticoagulant therapy, the blood is thinned to help prevent current clots from increasing in size, as well as prevents new clots from forming. However, they won’t dissolve any clots that are currently in the body. When treated for deep vein thrombosis, an IV of Heparin could be administered for several days, or an injection of Lovenox could be taken once a day for 5 to 7 days. After that, Warfarin – an anticoagulant pill – is given. Though it could take a few days for the medication to have effect, you may also be administered heparin. For up to six months, this regimen is taken, all while taking routine blood tests to ensure that blood is at the appropriate level of thinness to prevent clots from forming.

Anticoagulant therapy is a safe process, but it is important to follow any advice given by the physician or specialist administering it. Before pursuing any type of anticoagulant therapy, consult your physician.

How High Cholesterol Affects Vascular Health

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Keeping high cholesterol levels in check


Cholesterol – more than likely, you’ve heard of this little chemical compound at some point in your life. When we live in a world where high calorie, high sugar, high fat and, yes, high cholesterol fast food is available on practically every corner, it’s near impossible to not be reminded of its prominence in today’s marketplace. Despite hearing about cholesterol so frequently, however, many of us choose not to let the prominence of cholesterol in certain foods, or the daunting effects that frequent intake of high cholesterol can have on the body, affect how we live our lives.

However, in order to see the threat that high cholesterol can have not just on a vascular lifestyle, but also on the body in general, one first has to understand what cholesterol is.

What is Cholesterol?

First – it’s important to know that every cell in your body has cholesterol. This waxy, fat-like substance helps service many functions in the human body that are essential to living – it makes hormones, vitamin D and even helps to digest food. Cholesterol is carried all over the body by lipoproteins, or small packages with fat on the inside and proteins on the outside. Lipoproteins are classified as both low density (LDL) and high density (HDL). LDL cholesterol is typically seen as “bad cholesterol,” as it can lead to a buildup in your arteries. LDL cholesterol also carries blood from your heart all over the body, spreading its damaging effects. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is usually seen as “good cholesterol,” as it takes cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, where it is removed.

When LDL cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it can lead to a condition known as high blood cholesterol. Though the condition typically displays no symptoms or early precursors, one of the biggest means of preventing high blood cholesterol is to simply avoiding foods that contribute to arterial plaque buildup. The greater your chance of developing high blood cholesterol is ultimately determined by how high the level of LDL cholesterol is in the blood.

When analyzing the level of cholesterol in the blood, it’s also important to understand there are three types of cholesterol to keep track of: LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol level. It is recommended that blood in the body has 60 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) of HDL cholesterol or higher, less than 100 mg/dL of LDL cholesterol, and less than 200 mg/dL of total cholesterol. Patients within all of these ranges are least likely to develop conditions affected by high cholesterol. However, people are at the highest risk of developing these conditions if their LDL cholesterol level escalates to 190 mg/dL or higher, HDL lowers to less than 40 mg/dL or total cholesterol reaches 240 mg/dL.

Peripheral Vascular Disease

For vascular health, there are a few different conditions in which high cholesterol is a contributing factor. For example, the effects of peripheral vascular disease, or the decrease of blood flow due to the veins narrowing, are more damaging when the condition is brought on by atherosclerosis, where the arteries are hardened due to plaque buildup. Basically, this pair of conditions affects both the veins and arteries, it limits the amount of blood flow going through the body. Through this combination, organic peripheral vascular disease can be brought on as a result of high cholesterol, as the structure of the blood vessels change as a result.

Symptoms of peripheral vascular disease are noticeable, and typically involve pain in the legs, arms, feet and toes. If you find yourself experiencing any symptoms of peripheral vascular disease, tell your doctor immediately, as any delay in diagnosis or treatment can cause complications down the road.

Stroke Prevention

Keeping cholesterol in check is also an important step in preventing strokes. High cholesterol can directly attribute to the development of carotid artery disease, or buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries, which lead directly to the brain. When plaque caused by high blood cholesterol builds up in these arteries, blood flow is reduced to the brain, where brain cells begin to die off, impairing other parts of the body affected by the brain. If nothing is done to treat the blockage, effects such as long-term disability of vision, speech, and movement, or even death, are possible.

Renal Artery Stenosis

The renals can also be affected by plaque buildup caused by high levels of cholesterol. Branching off of the aorta, the renals help provide a vascular connection to the kidneys, supplying them with oxygenated blood, which allows them to perform vital functions like filtering the blood, regulating the balance of electrolytes and controlling the body’s fluid balance. However, when the renals become blocked with plaque, brought on by high cholesterol levels, they aren’t able to perform these functions, causing a condition known as renal artery stenosis.

Lifestyle Changes

Knowing how cholesterol can have an effect on vascular health is only half the battle, however. It is important to make real, permanent changes to diet and exercise intake in order to fend off the advancement of vascular disease. For diet, limiting or, at the very least, making changes to what you order at fast food restaurants can have a tremendous impact on the body’s cholesterol levels. To read more about simple changes one can make to their fast food order, click here.

Furthermore, aerobic and resistance workouts are recommended for fending off the development of high cholesterol, and engaging in both brings greater benefits for weight and fat loss. Utilizing both of these types of exercise daily brings the best results – just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, or 15 minutes a day of vigorous exercise can make all the difference.


Remember: Keeping cholesterol in its place by making a few simple adjustments can improve your overall health. Do it, and you’ll thank yourself someday for taking those steps.

Hypertension: Keeping the Pressure Off Vascular Disease

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Hypertension and Vascular Health


Hypertension (HT), more commonly referred to as high blood pressure (HBP), is one of the leading patient conditions that attributes to the development of vascular disease. Though high blood pressure itself does not cause any symptoms, long term sufferers from HT are put at a major risk for many life-threatening conditions, including coronary artery disease, chronic kidney disease, heart failure, stroke or peripheral vascular disease.

Checking Blood Pressure

If you’ve seen a doctor at least once in your lifetime, you’ve more than likely had your blood pressure examined. The process is done by a doctor or specialist, who places an inflatable cuff around your arm, using a pressure-measuring gauge to determine blood pressure. Test readings are given through a pair of numbers – the first number (the higher/top number) is a measure of the compression in arteries when your heart beats, known as systolic pressure, while the second number (the lower/bottom number) is a measure of the compression in your arteries when beats take place, or the diastolic pressure.

Once these numbers are provided, your doctor will tell you the numbers of your blood pressure – if it’s below 120/80 mm Hg (or millimeters of mercury), then your blood pressure is considered normal. However, if your blood pressure numbers reach outside of this range, it means you could fall into one of the three general categories for HBP.

Running the Numbers

If your systolic pressure ranges from 120 to 139 mm Hg, or your diastolic pressure ranges from 80 to 89 mm Hg, your blood pressure registers for Prehypertension – a condition that typically worsens over time. If systolic pressure extends from 140 to 159 mm Hg, or diastolic pressure ranges from 90 to 99 mm Hg, your blood pressure registers for Stage 1 hypertension. If systolic pressure continues to extend between 160 and 179 mm Hg, or diastolic pressure ranges from 100 to 109 mm Hg, then your blood pressure registers for Stage 2 hypertension. Anything over 180 mm Hg for systolic pressure or 110 mm Hg for diastolic pressure registers for Stage 3 hypertension, and is considered hypertensive emergency.

Prehypertension vs. Hypertension Stages

Prehypertension is the onset of early findings of HT that hasn’t yet developed into Stage 1 or Stage 2. When prehypertension is developed, lifestyle changes are often prescribed to patients who are diagnosed, such as increasing exercise, or managing body weight by adding more fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products into their diet.

If Stage 1 is reached, however, more severe measures are taken. Prehypertension lifestyle changes are kept, and medication is taken to reduce blood pressure, as well as prevent the risk of stroke and heart disease. A number of drug classes can be prescribed, depending on your medical history: Thiazide diuretics, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers. If Stage 2 is reached, two-drug therapy for the previous five classes is often prescribed, with some experimentation needing to be utilized for the best results.

Primary vs. Secondary Hypertension

Additionally, there is a difference between the causes of primary and secondary hypertension. Most diagnoses of high blood pressure are considered primary hypertension, meaning that a single cause of the disease cannot be pinpointed. When describing the condition, your doctor may refer to this as “idiopathic,” meaning the condition arises spontaneously and that the cause is unknown.

Secondary hypertension, on the other hand, is able to be diagnosed from a variety of underlying problems, including, but not limited to: Kidney, adrenal gland or thyroid problems, obstructive sleep apnea, congenital defects in blood vessels, alcohol or chronic alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, primarily from cocaine and amphetamines, or medications such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, some prescription drugs or over-the-counter pain relievers.

Risk Factors & Vascular Health

Some lifestyle risk factors can contribute to the development of either form of hypertension. The development of high blood pressure increases as you age, from not being physically active, being obese or overweight, using tobacco, drinking too much alcohol, having too much sodium in your diet or having high levels of stress, as well as others.

It’s no secret that hypertension can be a contributing factor to a multitude of vascular health problems. In addition to peripheral vascular disease and stroke, as mentioned earlier, those suffering from HT are at a higher risk for developing Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, Mesenteric Ischemia and Renal Artery Stenosis. Additionally, those who suffer from low blood pressure are put at a higher risk of developing a pulmonary embolism, as a result of a Deep Vein Thrombosis.


It’s important to be aware of the ways that hypertension can affect your vascular health, as well as know how you can control the condition’s risk factors to benefit your own life. For more information about how hypertension attributes to the spread and increased risk of vascular disease, consult your physician. 


Renal Artery Stenosis: Diagnosis & Treatments for Keeping Kidneys Healthy

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Giving critical organs a second chance


The kidneys are a pair of truly incredible organs – powerful, vital, and essential to the regulation of the human body. Located directly below the chest, with vascular connections to the aorta (the main artery of the body that supplies oxygenated blood through the circulatory system), this pair of bean-shaped organs carry many responsibilities on their back, despite only being the size of a clenched fist.

Kidney Functions

The primary function of the kidneys is to filter the blood. Through a process which removes metabolism’s waste products, all of the blood found in the body passes through the kidneys several times a day, which helps to regulate the balance of electrolytes and controlling the body’s fluid balance. Found in each kidney are nephrons – over one million infinitesimal units that filter the blood in a healthy human being.

The kidneys also serve several other crucial regulatory roles in the urinary system. Whenever blood passes through the kidneys, they excrete urea and ammonium, which are dispensed from the body when urination occurs. Additionally, the kidneys are responsible for the reabsorption of compounds like amino acids, glucose and water, as well as the hormones erythropoietin and calcitriol and the enzyme, renin, which acts in negative feedback to cause an increase in blood pressure, as a result of the perfusion pressure in the kidneys.

However, these connections wouldn’t be able to be made if it weren’t for the renal arteries and veins. From the aorta, the renal arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to the kidneys, while the renal veins carry oxygen-poor blood away from the organs. If it weren’t for the renals, nearly all of the kidney’s main functions wouldn’t be able to take place.

Renal Artery Stenosis

Keeping this in mind, it’s important to understand how renal artery stenosis can affect not only the arteries, but the processes that they aid the kidneys in as well. This condition occurs when the renal arteries are blocked or narrowed, preventing the amount of blood flow that occurs through the kidneys. If proper blood flow isn’t achieved, high blood pressure and injury to the tissues can occur, and blood can’t be efficiently filtered. Through this disease, plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries, causing more severe medical problems, such as aortic dissections, cardiac problems, stroke and aneurysms.

Women have a higher chance of developing renal artery stenosis, but its effects are synonymous between both genders. Many contributing factors increase a person’s risk for developing renal artery stenosis, including, but not limited to:

·     Atherosclerosis
·     Fibromuscular dysplasia
·   Inflammatory diseases
·   Tumors or aneurysms
·   Diabetes
·   High cholesterol
·   Obesity or physical inactivity
·   Smoking, or a history of using tobacco products
·    Heart disease

Diagnosis

Renal artery stenosis can be diagnosed through a multitude of processes. Duplex ultrasound checks the structure of renal arteries and veins and the blood flow received through them. Diagnostic angiogram involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube into the artery, as well as the injection of dye under x-ray imaging to note areas of blockage, narrowing or aneurysms. Additionally, venography helps to test the function and structure of the kidneys by the use of a small amount of a radioactive substance. Finally, MRA or CTA imaging uses the formation of contrast dye to visualize areas of narrowing or blockage in the kidney arteries.

Lifestyle Changes

Though the effects of renal artery stenosis may seem daunting, all hope is not lost: There are many options for treating this condition in affected patients. Some treatment options are as simple as adopting new or altered lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, implementing a 30-minute exercise regimen three days a week, or maintaining a healthy diet to, in turn, maintain a healthy body weight.

Medication

Many of these changes are used in part with medications to help control the risk factors discussed earlier. Some of these medications aid in establishing a more relaxed heartbeat or blood vessels, such as beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and Calcium channel blockers, while others help to control cholesterol levels or eliminate excess water from the body, such as statin drugs or diuretics. All of these medications are to be prescribed by a vascular surgeon, however, and should not be taken until proper diagnosis has taken place.

Surgery / Procedures

Finally, in severe cases of renal artery stenosis, where the previously described lifestyle changes and medications are not enough to take care of the condition, minimally invasive surgery can be done, depending on the overall health of a patient, as well as the extent and location of their blockages.

Angioplasty and stenting are procedures done by placing a catheter into a small puncture over an artery in the arm or groin, and directed towards the blockage under x-ray guidance. A small balloon is inflated and deflated several times, pushing and compressing the plaque to the walls of the artery, which helps allow blood to flow freely.

Bypass surgery can also be utilized. A graft, or a synthetic, round tube, is inserted into a vein, where the blood flow is rerouted to a different artery, restoring the correct amount of blood to the affected tissues. Additionally, renal artery endarterectomy can help to remove the build-up of fats, cholesterol, and the total summation of plaque from the renal arteries.


Though renal artery stenosis can affect many of the overall processes that kidneys are responsible for, the condition is treatable, and, through varying treatment options, will help to give patients and their afflicted organs another shot at a healthy life. 

 

Winter Circulation: Protecting Vascular Blood Flow Through Prevention

Winter Weather

Fending off the winter weather

As the winter winds begin to blow, and we start to transition into the next three months of the season, there’ll be many things we’ll all start to notice; Christmas lights on every corner, snow collecting on every sidewalk, plows clearing every city street. However, there is one thing that many may notice, but not know how to combat it: Poor circulation caused by the colder weather.

Caused primarily by a mix of poor aging and lack of proper movement of the body, there are many factors that attribute to improper circulation throughout the body. During the winter months, finding proper circulation becomes increasingly difficult for many Americans – especially those who already suffer from conditions which limit suitable distribution to limbs and blood vessels.

Though poor circulation isn’t seen as a condition on its own, but instead one caused by other concerns, it’s important to recognize when one has poor circulation by understanding the symptoms: Tingling, numbness, and pounding, harsh pain (primarily in the limbs). Furthermore, when these symptoms progress, the reduced blood flow to the body can cause a multitude of other severe symptoms, including nerve and tissue damage.

While these symptoms are unique to each condition, and aren’t necessarily universal to every patient, it’s important to understand the connection between winter weather and its effects on the vascular system. With that, there are many things one can do to help improve circulation during the winter months.

First, though it may seem like a no-brainer, especially when it comes to Michigan in December through February, it still bears repeating: Wear extra layers of clothing. Multiple layers of clothing will help to properly insulate veins and arteries, with wool and cotton-made clothing shown to provide the best results. Extremities, such as the hands and feet, especially, are important to keep covered, as they are the most susceptible to cold weather. The knees, nose, nipples and ears can also be affected, though less commonly.

If extremities are not protected, Raynaud’s Syndrome may occur. When Raynaud’s Syndrome takes over, the fingers turn white or blue to indicate that the smaller blood vessels are constricting or rapidly using oxygen, the skin becomes painful or swollen, and/or ulcerations of the finger or toe pads occur.

Additionally, exercise is important for increased circulation – however, it doesn’t have be a brisk, overwhelming ordeal. Whether it be a daily walk, yoga, or a routine of assorted workouts, there are many ways to easily implement a regimen into your daily lifestyle. If you’re looking to implement a convenient, in-home method of exercise, stairs can be utilized for stepping exercises, allowing for improved circulation in the lower vascular system without having to step outside in the cold weather.

There are also many in-home changes to diet that can be put in place as well – many of which have shown improvement to circulation. Though some of us may skip a meal or forget to eat, it’s important to not only eat regularly, but to also eat a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients that are directly responsible for improving circulation.

Oranges, for example, act as a natural blood thinner, due to the high vitamin C content, shown to prevent poor circulation by preventing plaque build-up. Dark chocolate, and other foods containing cocoa – a rich source of natural flavonoids – have been shown to improve blood circulation. Sunflower seeds, nuts and pumpkins seeds, are high in Vitamin E, proven to prevent the formation of blood clots.

Garlic, a multi-use food, prevents plaque build-up by cleansing the blood. Similar foods, such as onions and radishes, show parallel results when stimulating blood flow. Ginkgo biloba, as one of the world’s oldest species of tree, is often used to dilate the blood vessels, which increases blood flow as a result. Finally, root ginger, when either eaten raw or added to other foods, has a similar, positive effect on circulation.

Finally, as always, it’s important to stay hydrated, as the effects of drinking enough water help to keep the skin from drying out. When skin dries, it becomes difficult for the body to retain heat, thus preventing proper circulation to take place.

Though there are many ways to help treat poor circulation, as well as symptoms brought on by Raynaud’s Syndrome, one of the more prominent methods of increasing blood flow is prevention – the more one does to stop improper circulation from occurring, the better. By following these tips, the better chance one has of improving their vascular health, and living a longer, healthier life as a result.

Wound Care: Understanding Ulcers & Treating Symptoms

first aid kit

 

Stitching together a correct diagnosis

Peripheral vascular disease – its effects cause hardship to over three million people every year. And while its effects can vary from patient to patient, the undeniable truth is that a multitude of PVD’s effects can cause both serious cosmetic and health concerns for the affected person. Among these effects are ulcers on the arms, legs and feet, developed as a result of poor blood flow that promotes insufficient healing in the afflicted areas.

Through the various forms of peripheral vascular disease, patients who experience these diseases can often develop non-healing wounds in their extremities as a result. These ulcers can be brought on by a variety of risk factors, which contribute to the development of these wounds. The risk factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Advanced stage of peripheral artery disease

  • Venous insufficiency

  • Hypertension

  • Diabetes

  • Lymphedema

  • Inflammatory disease, such as vasculitis, lupus or scleroderma

  • Smoking

  • Inactivity

  • Cancer

  • Infection


While these wounds may cause discomfort or show a displeasing appearance if left untreated, there are a variety of treatment options for ulcers. However, in order to provide the proper treatment, it is important to first locate and diagnose the ulcer correctly. Because of that, here are the three main types of wounds, and their differences.

1.     Venous Stasis Ulcers

Caused by poor circulation from the legs, such as from venous insufficiency, venous stasis ulcers are developed when the one-way valves that keep blood flowing toward the heart are damaged and pools of backed up blood form in the vein. As a result, the vein and surrounding tissue may leak fluid, leading to the breakdown of the tissue, and a subsequent ulcer. Deep vein thrombosis, obesity, smoking and a lack of physical activity are some of the leading contributors to venous stasis ulcers. Typically, these ulcers are found on the inner part of the leg, below the knee and just above the ankle. When attempting to locate these ulcers, be on the lookout for yellowish tissue and possible drainage.

2.     Neurotrophic Ulcers

Also commonly referred to as “diabetic neuropathic ulcers,” these ulcers occur in people with diabetic nerve damage, with no or little sensation in their feet. People with increased pressure points on the bottom of their feet are at a higher risk for these ulcers, but these ulcers can appear anywhere on the foot. Many patients who suffer from neurotrophic ulcers often complain of numbness, tingling or burning of the feet, and can be associated with cellulitis, lymphangitis, adenopathy, foul odor and purulent drainage. Their appearance is often defined by a pinkish red or brownish/black base, with punched out borders and calloused surrounding skin.

3.     Arterial Ulcers

Less common than venous skin ulcers, arterial skin ulcers are often tremendously painful, and happen when artery disease is present. Typically found at the heels, toes or nail bed, the surrounding skin of arterial ulcers is often red and swollen, punched out borders and either yellow, brown, grey or black coloration. The skin may also be shiny, cool or smooth, with a dry, dark base, and have the potential to include gangrene as well.


There are a variety of options for treating ulcers, and can be found below.

  • Antibiotics – Usually found in topical or oral form, antibiotics can be used to treat an infection in a wound if present.
  • Compression dressings – Generally used venous stasis ulcers, compression dressings can help minimize swelling of wounds, and involves wrapping an ACE bandage around the wound, or a series of multi-layer compression wraps.
  • Debridement – The number of substances and microbes that inhibit healing are reduced during debridement, when the dead or infected tissue of the wound is removed.
  • Prosthetics/orthotics – In order to help restore someone back to their normal level of functioning, prosthetics or orthotics can be implemented and worn.
  • Skin grafts – This procedure can help restore a more normal appearance to the wound, or faster healing – by removing healthy skin from one part of the body, or synthetic material, to the afflicted area.
  • Topical wound care therapies – These therapies are numerous in number, and can help to aid wounds on the skin. These treatments can include, but are not limited to: Alginate, antimicrobial dressings, collagen wound dressings, composite dressings, hydrogels and hydrocolloids.