Failing to pay attention to your vascular health could lead to potentially life-threatening conditions, including “silent” blood clots that travel through the bloodstream into the heart or lungs.
If you’re over 60, says Amy Reed, MD, making time for three simple vascular screening tests could save your life.
“Most people don’t understand how their vascular health can affect the body,” explains Reed, a vascular surgeon and assistant professor of surgery with the University of Cincinnati (UC). “People understand the risks associated with blockages in heart vessels, but the reality is that blockages in the vessels leading to your brain and legs can be just as harmful.”
The human vascular system is a complex arrangement of vessels that carry blood to specific parts of the body. Arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart, distribute blood throughout the body. Veins, smaller vessels, return blood to the heart.
Vascular problems occur when fat and cholesterol (plaque) build up on the artery walls. As plaque increases, the arteries harden and become narrow. Gradually, blood flow decreases and parts of the body are deprived of the oxygen they need to function properly.
“People need to take steps to improve their vascular health and get screening tests when it’s appropriate,” adds Reed. “Detecting vascular disease early can help prevent serious problems—like stroke or crippling leg pain—in the future.”
Reed says three of the most common non-cardiac vascular diseases—abdominal aortic aneurysms, carotid artery disease and peripheral arterial disease—can be detected through screening tests and then treated with minimally invasive surgery techniques.
The UC Heart and Vascular Center is offering free vascular screening tests on Friday, Sept. 28, for men and women over 60 and people deemed at elevated risk for vascular disease.
The tests, which combined take about 15 minutes, include a carotid artery ultrasound to detect blockages in the vessels that feed blood to the brain, an abdominal aorta ultrasound to identify aneurysms or “bulges” that indicate vessel weakness, and an ankle blood pressure test to detect blockages in the legs.
“All the tests are noninvasive, so you’ll experience no pain or discomfort,” adds Dr. Reed. “But you’ll leave armed with information about your vascular health.”
Reeds notes that a person’s risk for vascular disease is influenced by family history and it increases with age. Also at elevated risk are diabetics and people who are obese, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or have ever smoked.
Screenings will take place between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. at the UC Heart and Vascular Center, 7700 University Court in West Chester. Preregistration is required and appointments will be given on a first-come, first-served basis. To schedule an appointment, call (513) 475-7918.
Starting in 2007, new Medicare Part B health insurance enrollees are also eligible for a preventive abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. Upon completion of a mandatory physical examination, new male Medicare patients who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes during their lifetime and anyone with a family history of vascular disease can request the abdominal aortic aneurysm screening exam. For more information, call (513) 558-8272.
According to the American Vascular Association, more than 15,000 Americans die of ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms each year. People with peripheral arterial disease are three times more likely than the average person to die of heart attacks or strokes.