With four million sufferers in the UK alone, North-East GP Dr Zak Uddin discusses vascular disease, and what people can do to reduce their risk
SEPTEMBER is Vascular Disease Awareness Month. In the words of campaigners, it aims to “save the limbs and lives of those with vascular disease” through education about early recognition of symptoms, and those risk factors which can be altered to hopefully reduce the chance of developing vascular disease, as well as slowing its progression in those already affected.
Vascular disease, colloquially known as “hardening of the arteries”, affects blood vessels throughout the body. It is due to the formation of fatty deposits on the inside of the arteries, which over time narrows them, reducing the smooth flow of blood, and can be likened to the closure of a lane on a busy motorway.
This deprives the body’s organs of vital oxygen and nutrients. Turbulent blood flow may cause a deposit, also known as a plaque, to rupture, with immediate and total loss of circulation, similar to a massive accident bringing moving traffic to a sudden and complete stand still. This can be severe enough to result in loss of limb or life.
Vascular disease in the blood vessels of the neck and brain leads to strokes, in the heart it causes angina and heart attacks, while that affecting the legs results in a phenomenon known as peripheral arterial disease, where walking a certain distance brings on pain in the buttocks or legs, depending on where the narrowing occurs.
Peripheral arterial disease of the legs is estimated to be one of the commonest forms of vascular disease. Interestingly, it does not seem to affect the arms. As plaques build up over months to years, symptoms may be quite mild at the start, becoming steadily worse as damage to the blood vessels increases. In its most severe form, sufferers can have agonising limb pain even at rest. Other changes include pale, cold extremities, loss of hair over the lower…