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Home >> Health Topics >> Arteries

Arteries

Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. All arteries, with the exception of the pulmonary and umbilical arteries, carry oxygenated blood.

The arterial system is the higher-pressure portion of the circulatory system. Arterial pressure varies between the peak pressure during heart contraction, called the systolic pressure, and the minimum, or diastolic pressure between contractions, when the heart expands and refills. This pressure variation within the artery produces the pulse which is observable in any artery, and reflects heart activity. Arteries also aid the heart in pumping blood. Arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart except for pulmonary arteries.


Aneurysms
Arteriovenous Malformations
Carotid Artery Disease
Diabetic Foot
High Blood Pressure
Low Blood Pressure
Peripheral Vascular Diseases
Raynaud's Disease
Stroke
Transient Ischemic Attack
Vascular Diseases
Vasculitis


Aneurysms


An aneurysm is a bulge or "ballooning" in the wall of an artery. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other parts of the body. If an aneurysm grows large, it can burst and cause dangerous bleeding or even death.

Most aneurysms occur in the aorta, the main artery traveling from the heart through the chest and abdomen. Aneurysms also can happen in arteries in the brain, heart and other parts of the body. If an aneurysm in the brain bursts, it causes a stroke.


Aneurysms can develop and become large before causing any symptoms. Often doctors can stop aneurysms from bursting if they find and treat them early. Medicines and surgery are the two main treatments for aneurysms.

Arteriovenous Malformations

Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) are defects in your circulatory system. The circulatory system includes the arteries, veins and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart. An AVM is a snarled tangle of arteries and veins. It interferes with the blood circulation in an organ. AVMs can happen anywhere, but the ones located in the brain or spinal cord can have effects such as seizures or headaches. However, most people with brain and spinal cord AVMs experience few, if any, significant symptoms.

The cause of AVMs is unknown, though they seem to develop during pregnancy or soon after birth. The greatest danger of an AVM is hemorrhage. Prevention can include surgery or focused irradiation therapy.


   

 

Carotid Artery Disease

Your carotid arteries are two large blood vessels in your neck. They supply your brain with blood. If you have carotid artery disease, the arteries become narrow, usually from the buildup of cholesterol and other material. If a blood clot sticks in the narrowed arteries, blood can't reach your brain. This is one of the causes of stroke.

Carotid artery disease often does not cause symptoms, but there are tests that can tell your doctor if you have it. If the arteries are very narrow, you may need an operation called an endarterectomy to remove the plaque. For less severe narrowing, a medicine to prevent blood clots can reduce your risk of stroke. Another option for people who can't have surgery is carotid angioplasty. This involves placing balloons and/or stents into the artery to open it and hold it open.

 

Diabetic Foot

 

If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels are too high. Over time, this can damage your nerves or blood vessels. Nerve damage from diabetes can cause you to lose feeling in your feet. You may not feel a cut, a blister or a sore. Foot injuries such as these can cause ulcers and infections. Serious cases may even lead to amputation. Damage to the blood vessels can also mean that your feet do not get enough blood and oxygen. It is harder for your foot to heal, if you do get a sore or infection.

You can help avoid foot problems. First, control your blood sugar levels. Good foot hygiene is also crucial.

   

 

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure increases your chance (or risk) for getting heart disease and/or kidney disease, and for having a stroke. It is especially dangerous because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. Regardless of race, age, or gender, anyone can develop high blood pressure. It is estimated that one in every four American adults has high blood pressure. Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime. You can prevent and control high blood pressure by taking action.

 

Low Blood Pressure

You've probably heard that high blood pressure is a problem. So what about low blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure. Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Both are important. Usually they're written one above or before the other, such as 120/80. If your blood pressure reading is 90/60 or lower, you have low blood pressure.



   

Some people have low blood pressure all the time. They have no symptoms and their low readings are normal for them. In other people, blood pressure drops below normal because of some event or medical condition. Some people may experience symptoms of low pressure when standing up too quickly. Low blood pressure is a problem only if it causes dizziness, fainting or in extreme cases, shock.

Peripheral Vascular Diseases

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) happens when there is a narrowing of the blood vessels outside of your heart. A substance made up of fat and cholesterol, called plaque, builds up on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs. The plaque causes the arteries to narrow or become blocked. This can reduce or stop blood flow, usually to the legs, causing them to hurt or feel numb. If severe enough, blocked blood flow can cause tissue death. If this condition is left untreated, the foot or leg may need to be amputated.

A person with PVD also has an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and transient ischemic attack. You can often stop or reverse the buildup of plaque in the arteries with dietary changes, exercise, and efforts to lower high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.


Raynaud's Disease

Raynaud's disease is a rare disorder of the blood vessels, usually in the fingers and toes. People with this disorder have attacks that cause the blood vessels to narrow. When this happens, blood can't get to the surface of the skin and the affected areas turn white and blue. When the blood flow returns, the skin turns red and throbs or tingles. In severe cases, loss of blood flow can cause sores or tissue death. Cold weather and stress can trigger attacks. Often the cause of Raynaud's is not known. People in colder climates are more likely to develop Raynaud's than people in warmer areas.



Treatment for Raynaud's may include drugs to keep the blood vessels open. There are also simple things you can do yourself, such as

Soaking hands in warm water at the first sign of an attack
Keeping your hands and feet warm in cold weather

Stroke

A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to your brain stops. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. There are two kinds of stroke. The more common kind, called ischemic stroke, is caused by a blood clot that blocks or plugs a blood vessel in the brain. The other kind, called hemorrhagic stroke, is caused by a blood vessel that breaks and bleeds into the brain. "Mini-strokes" or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), occur when the blood supply to the brain is briefly interrupted.

Symptoms of stroke are

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body)
Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you have any of these symptoms, you must get to a hospital quickly to begin treatment.


Transient Ischemic Attack

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a stroke that comes and goes quickly. It happens when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in your brain. This causes the blood supply to the brain to stop briefly. Symptoms of a TIA are like other stroke symptoms, but do not last as long. They happen suddenly, and include

Numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body
Confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech
Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Loss of balance or coordination

Most symptoms of a TIA disappear within an hour, although they may last for up to 24 hours. Because you cannot tell if these symptoms are from a TIA or a stroke, you should get to the hospital quickly.

TIAs are often a warning sign for future strokes. Taking medicine, such as blood thinners, may reduce your risk of a stroke. Your doctor might also recommend surgery.


Vascular Diseases

The vascular system is the body's network of blood vessels. It includes the arteries, veins and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart. Problems of the vascular system are common and can be serious. Arteries can become thick and stiff, a problem called arteriosclerosis. Blood clots can clog vessels and block blood flow to the heart or brain. Weakened blood vessels can burst, causing bleeding inside the body.

   

You are more likely to have vascular disease as you get older. Other factors that make vascular disease more likely include

Family history of vascular or heart diseases
Pregnancy
Illness or injury
Long periods of sitting or standing still
Any condition that affects the heart and blood vessels, such as diabetes or high cholesterol
Smoking
Obesity

Losing weight, eating healthy foods, being active and not smoking can help vascular disease. Other treatments include medicines and surgery.

Vasculitis

Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels. It happens when the body's immune system attacks the blood vessel by mistake. The cause is often unknown. Vasculitis can affect arteries, veins and capillaries. Arteries are vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body's organs. Veins are the vessels that carry blood back to the heart. Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that connect the small arteries and veins.


When a blood vessel becomes inflamed, it can

Narrow, making it more difficult for blood to get through
Close off completely so that blood can't get through
Stretch and weaken so much that it bulges and may burst and cause dangerous bleeding inside the body

Symptoms of vasculitis can vary, but usually include fever, swelling and a general sense of feeling ill. The main goal of treatment is to stop the inflammation. Steroids and other medicines to stop inflammation are often helpful.

 

 
 

 

 

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