Vascular Disease accounts for 40% of deaths in the UK and many of these are preventable with lifestyle changes. Diabetes and Obesity are both becoming more common and both are risk factors for the development of vascular disease together with excess alcohol consumption and smoking. These coupled with a lack of exercise place many people at risk.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
This is a common circulatory problem where arteries carrying blood to the legs or arms become narrowed or clogged. It affects 1 in 5 of the over 70s. Over time, plaque builds up in arteries and forms atherosclerosis which blocks blood flow.
The immediate effects of PAD include a range of symptoms such as painful cramping in the hip, thigh or calf after activity. In addition, symptoms such as leg numbness, weakness and difficulty with healing can arise.
The Connection with Diabetes
One of the many complications of this condition is that high blood sugar levels can damages blood vessels which make the blood vessels more likely to be narrowed or weakened. High Blood pressure which is common in people with diabetes also accelerates the development of atherosclerosis. Diabetic patients are five times more likely to develop vascular disease than others. Common complications include tissue damage, infection and amputation.
Stroke/ heart attack
PAD also carries a 6-7 times higher risk of heart attack or stroke. Atherosclerosis in the carotid artery which delivers oxygenated blood to the brain can cause Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIA) and stroke. Smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes are all factors which potentially lead to this condition.
Conservative treatment is used wherever possible and the routine prescribing of statins can help to control cholesterol levels. These work by reducing the amount of cholesterol or fat in the blood being produced by the liver. In addition having a healthy weight helps to reduce both Blood Pressure and cholesterol levels.
For Diabetic patients, good control of blood sugar levels is essential together with foot care. Often problems with poor circulation start in the feet and once infection develops this can be very difficult to treat due to the underlying arterial disease and can lead to amputation.
Anti-platelet therapy such as aspirin is commonly prescribed to make the blood less sticky and prevent blood clots. Drugs are also available to relax the blood vessels and ensure better blood flow.
Sometimes surgery is recommended including balloon angioplasty, stent and bypass and amputation.
September is Vascular Disease Awareness Month and this is supported by The Circulation Foundation, the UK’s only Vascular Disease Charity.