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Treating Arterial Disease by Huey McDaniel, MD


What is arterial disease? To put it simply, arterial disease is like plumbing; the artery is either leaking or clogged. It can take many forms, including peripheral artery disease (PAD), cerebrovascular disease, and aneurysms (dilated artery at risk for rupture), and it's more common than you might think. In fact, PAD affects one out of every ten adults and 1/3 of all over the age of 70.

Do I have arterial disease?

Pain in your legs that hampers walking may be from PAD. It is caused from blockages in the arteries carrying blood to your legs. These blockages can be in the abdomen, pelvis, thighs or below the knee. You could even develop sores in your feet if the blockages become severe.

The good news is, blocked arteries can be treated to improve both your quality of life and prevent an amputation. There are various means to get better blood flow into the legs. A surgical bypass means running a graft (tube) from a source of good blood flow across the obstruction and into an open artery downstream of the blockage. Alternatively, a minimally invasive procedure is similar to a heart catheterization; only the leg is being catheterized.

Many tools are available to get blood flow via a minimally invasive approach. Some folks require an atherectomy to remove obstructive debris, similar to the way a plumber "roto-rooters" open clogged pipes in one's house. Sometimes a balloon is used to "pop open" the occluded vessel. Other times a stent - a small tube made of metal - is used to hold open the vessel.

Cerebrovascular disease is blocked arteries in the neck decreasing blood flow to the brain. Treatment is imperative for cerebrovascular disease, as a stroke is likely if the vessel is left untreated. The artery can be unblocked by either opening the blood vessel in the neck by physically removing the blockage or placing a stent to force open the artery.

Luckily, newer developments in treating vascular disease allows for minimally invasive, as well as open operative treatments. Seek out a vascular specialist that performs both open operations and minimally invasive procedures to get the most appropriate treatment.

The truth about dilated arteries

The most common dilated artery is an aortic aneurysm. This dilated artery is located in the back of a person's abdomen, and if allowed to get large enough, it will leak or rupture. It's important to note that most folks will die with an aneurysm, not from an aneurysm rupturing. Not every dilated artery needs to be fixed, but it does need to be followed by a vascular specialist to make that call if the time comes.

Originally, the only option for treating this problem was to do an open operative repair. With newer techniques, we now fix these dilated vessels through a couple of needle sticks. It's called "endovascular aneurysm repair." Explained simply, a waterproof tube is inserted inside the artery to keep flow and pressure off the dilated portion. The arterial blood no longer constantly buffets the dilated portion of the artery, and it can now heal with time.

You may not know if you have arterial disease. If you have unexplained leg pain, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, or are diabetic, consult your primary care physician. You could benefit from regular checkups with a vascular specialist.

At Coastal Vascular and Interventional, our mission is to provide the highest quality care with the most advanced technology in the fields of vascular surgery and interventional radiology. Our Vascular Specialists perform thousands of procedures annually for patients with a range of vascular disorders at ten hospitals, our state-of-the-art outpatient centers, and sixteen office locations along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida. For more information visit