What is ischemic vascular disease?

Ischemic vascular disease is a condition characterized by narrowing of the blood vessels. When the arteries are severely restricted and blood flow decreases, the body's cells are deprived of nutrients and oxygen. The heart or brain may suffer if the ischemia is in those regions. If ischemic vascular disease occurs outside of these areas, it manifests as peripheral arterial disease. Stroke, heart attack and dementia are some of the possible results of this disease.

One of the main causes of ischemic vascular disease is atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fats and other substances that form plaque inside the arteries. When the inner lining of the arteries is damaged, inflammation occurs and plaque begins to form. Although plaque buildup may be worse in certain arteries, people with atherosclerosis generally have the condition throughout their cardiovascular system. Risk factors for developing atherosclerosis include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Other factors that increase the chance of developing atherosclerosis are diet, lack of exercise, and obesity.

The most common form of ischemic vascular disease is peripheral artery disease, which affects the blood vessels outside the heart and brain. As plaque builds up in the arteries to the legs, arms, or kidneys, blood flow is gradually blocked. The condition can be asymptomatic for decades. It is believed that the condition may begin as early as adolescence, taking many years to become noticeable. Once the constrictions become severe, symptoms occur, including cold hands or feet, cramping or pain in the leg muscles, and a reduced or absent pulse in the arm or leg.

Coronary artery disease is a form of ischemic vascular disease that affects the heart. The arteries that provide nutrients and oxygen to the heart muscle contract so much that the muscle is essentially starved. Angina indicates the presence of narrow coronary arteries and an insufficient supply of oxygen. When part of the heart muscle is completely deprived of oxygen, a myocardial infarction, a heart attack, occurs. If treatment is not prompt, lasting heart damage is possible.

Most strokes are the result of loss of blood supply to the brain. Clots that form from unstable plaque are a leading cause of stroke. Atherosclerosis is rarely localized, so patients who have had a heart attack or peripheral arterial disease are at increased risk of stroke. Vascular disease affecting the brain is suspected of contributing to the development of dementia. The long-term decrease in the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the brain could cause an increasing loss of brain function.

Effective prevention of ischemic vascular disease begins when people are young. Many lifestyle factors that are controllable play a role in the development of the disease. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and careful control of your diet improve cardiovascular health. Avoiding saturated and trans fats while increasing fresh fruits and vegetables is thought to reduce the risk of developing the disease. Tobacco use constricts the arteries, so smokers are advised to start a smoking cessation program.

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