Vascular Surgery FAQs

Vascular Surgery FAQs

What conditions do vascular surgeons treat?

Vascular surgeons are physicians who care for patients with diseases that affect the arteries and veins throughout the body outside of the heart and brain.

What is vascular disease and how serious is it?

Most vascular disease is caused by atherosclerosis, a disease of the walls of the vessels, often called “hardening of the arteries.”  This may cause plaque build-up which may block circulation, or weaken the blood vessel wall which may lead to aneurysm disease.  Vascular disease afflicts millions of Americans and is one of the most frequent causes of death and disability among older Americans.

What is the difference between heart disease and vascular disease?

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease.  It is caused by atherosclerosis, “hardening of the arteries” that is limited to the vessels supplying circulation to the heart muscle itself.  Vascular disease outside the heart can affect the rest of the circulation to the body, including the blood supply to the arms, the legs, the brain, the kidneys, and the gut – even the fingers and toes may be affected.

What are the common diseases of the vascular system?

The most common diseases of the vascular system include: abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA), thoracic aortic dissection, carotid arterial disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease (PVD), venous disease (varicose veins, deep venous thrombosis and phlebitis).  Early detection is important so that vascular diseases can be treated effectively.

What is vascular screening?

Non-invasive, painless ultrasound tests can easily detect an aneurysm, narrowing or blockages in the vascular system, allowing for accurate diagnosis and early treatment that can ultimately save your life.

Who should be tested for vascular disease?

Individuals who are over 55 years old, have smoked during their life, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary disease, or diabetes should have a screening.  Anyone with a family history of aneurysms should also be screened with duplex ultrasound.

Does early detection for vascular disease really help?

Early detection of vascular problems can prevent stroke, disability and death. 

What are the tests used in a vascular screening?

The most frequently used screening test is an ultrasound examination. This is a non-invasive way of evaluating the size of and flow through major blood vessels in the body including the carotid arteries, the aorta, and the arteries and veins in the legs.  This study is performed by using a probe covered in a gel placed onto the skin to look at the vessels of interest.  A typical exam lasts approximately an hour.

Where is the testing done?

Testing can be performed at one of Cooper’s five Vascular Diagnostic Centers that are located in Camden, Marlton, Sewell, Voorhees and Willingboro.

What is carotid artery disease?

Your carotid arteries supply blood to the front part of your brain.  When these vessels become narrowed by the build-up of plaque it is called carotid artery disease or carotid artery stenosis.

What causes a stroke?

stroke can occur when the brain does not receive enough oxygen or when there is bleeding in the brain. Strokes can occur from carotid disease when plaque breaks off from the carotid artery and travels to the brain.

What are the warning signs of a stroke?

Stroke symptoms related to carotid disease are sudden weakness or numbness of an arm or a leg, sudden inability to speak or find your words, trouble swallowing or sudden blindness in one eye.

What are the treatment options for carotid artery disease?

Treatment of carotid artery disease usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes including smoking cessation, cholesterol management and daily aspirin therapy. In severe cases, a procedure may be required.

What is peripheral vascular disease?

Peripheral vascular disease is associated with poor circulation or “hardening of the arteries” and can lead to a significant increased risk of stroke or heart attack. When arteries that supply blood to the internal organs, arms and legs become narrowed or blocked by plaque or fatty deposits, the flow of blood is slowed or stopped.

Who is at risk for peripheral vascular disease?

Peripheral vascular disease is most common in people over 50 years old and is seen in more men than women. People who smoke, have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a history of heart disease are more likely to have PVD.

What are the symptoms of peripheral vascular disease?

Symptoms can include cramping, weakness, or numbness in the leg muscles while walking called intermittent claudication and/or a feeling of numbness or weakness in the leg muscles.  In patients with severe PVD, insufficient blood flow to the legs may cause pain while resting, typically at night while lying down.

What testing will be done to diagnose peripheral vascular disease?

There are several different types of diagnostic tools to diagnose PVD, including duplex ultrasound, CT scan/MRI and angiography.

How is peripheral vascular disease treated?

Treatments for PVD can include lifestyle changes, medications, open surgery, balloon angioplasty and/or stent placement.

What is an aneurysm and how do they form?

An aneurysm is a weakened area of a blood vessel that expands or bulges.  Many aneurysms occur in the aorta, the main artery moving blood from your heart to the rest of your body.  Aneurysms occur as the wall of the blood vessel weakens and dilates over time.  Aneurysms can occur due to genetics or a family history of aneurysms or trauma.

Who is at risk for an aortic aneurysm?

Aortic aneurysms are most common in men over 60.  Also, women with risk factors have an elevated chance of developing an aneurysm. Cigarette smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol all contribute to the chances of developing a life-threatening aneurysm.

How are aneurysms detected?

Aneurysms can be detected by a physical exam revealing an abnormal prominent pulse in the abdomen, an ultrasound, CT scan, or a MRA.

What are the warning signs of aneurysms?

Most aneurysms produce no symptoms (they are asymptomatic). They are often incidentally discovered when abdominal ultrasounds and/or CT scan studies are ordered for other conditions. When they produce symptoms, the most common symptom is pain. The pain typically has a deep quality as if it is boring into the person. It is felt most prominently in the middle of the abdomen and can radiate to the back. The pain is usually steady but may be relieved by changing position. The person may also become aware of an abnormally prominent abdominal pulsation.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm can remain asymptomatic or produce mild to moderate symptoms for years. However, a rapidly expanding abdominal aneurysm can cause a sudden onset of severe, steady, and worsening, middle abdominal and back pain.

What procedures can be done for an aneurysm?

A minimally invasive procedure for an aortic aneurysm is endovascular surgery. This procedure allows the grafts (stent) to be guided within the blood vessel itself to the site of the aneurysm without the need to cut open the abdomen. Not all aneurysms can be fixed in this manner and there may not be a long-term benefit to this type of surgery.

What causes varicose veins?

The most important factor predisposing to varicose veins is a strong history of similar problems occurring in other blood relatives.  With such a family history, individuals presumably inherit weakened valves in the veins of their legs and under the right set of conditions, the veins become tortuous and dilated.  Varicose veins can also develop after the valves in the veins are injured by a clot in the veins.

Are varicose veins dangerous to my health?

Although many people with varicose veins complain of discomfort, these symptoms usually are not harmful to your health.

What symptoms are associated with varicose veins?

Leg discomfort, aching, swelling, tingling and numbness are common symptoms associated with varicose veins. Some people also complain of an itching feeling over their veins. Varicose veins can also become red, hot, and swollen, a condition known as phlebitis. Rarely, varicose veins close to the surface of the skin can break and cause bleeding.

What are spider veins?

Spider veins are small, threadlike veins that lie close to the surface of the skin. They connect to the larger veins but are non-essential. Spider veins are usually not associated with symptoms.

What are the treatment options for varicose veins?

Several options are available for the removal of your varicose veins; these include radiofrequency ablation, endovenous laser therapy, sclerotherapy, phlebectomy, and compression stockings.