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What is the difference between a vascular surgeon and a cardiologist?

Vascular surgeons provide interventions for arteries and veins, as well as therapies for disease of the peripheral vascular system. Cardiologists specialize in diagnosis and treatment for heart conditions.

What is vascular disease?

A vascular disease is a condition that affects the arteries and veins. Most often, vascular disease affects blood flow, either by blocking or weakening blood vessels, or by damaging the valves that are found in veins. Organs and other body structures may be damaged by vascular disease as a result of decreased or completely blocked blood flow.

What causes vascular disease?

Causes of vascular disease include:

  • Atherosclerosis. A buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery. This thickening narrows the arteries and can decrease blood flow or completely block the flow of blood to organs and other body tissues and structures. Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of vascular disease.
  • Embolus/thrombus. A blood vessel may be blocked by an embolus (a tiny mass of debris that moves through the bloodstream) or a thrombus (a blood clot).
  • Inflammation. Generally, inflammation of blood vessels is referred to as vasculitis, which includes a range of disorders. Inflammation may lead to narrowing and blockage of blood vessels.
  • Trauma/injury. Trauma or injury involving the blood vessels may lead to inflammation or infection, which can damage the blood vessels and lead to narrowing and blockage.

What are the effects of vascular disease?

Blood vessels perform multiple jobs all over the body. They supply all organs and tissues with oxygen and nutrients, remove waste products, maintain fluid balance, and perform other functions. Because the vascular system is found throughout the body, conditions that affect the vascular system may also affect the parts of the body supplied by a particular vascular network, such as the coronary arteries of the heart.

Some examples of the effects of vascular disease include:

  • Heart attack, angina (chest pain)
  • Stroke, transient ischemic attack (a sudden or temporary loss of blood flow to an area of the brain, usually lasting less than 5 minutes but not longer than 24 hours, with complete recovery)
  • Peripheral arterial disease- limping because of pain in the thigh, calf and/or buttocks that occurs when walking (also called “claudication”), critical limb ischemia (lack of oxygen to the limb/leg at rest)
  • Aortic aneurysm (a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning)
  • Deep vein thrombosis (also called DVT; a blood clot in a deep vein located within the muscles of the leg), varicose veins
  • Lymphedema (swelling caused by interruption of the normal drainage pattern in the lymph nodes)
  • Vascular diseases of the lungs.
  • Renal (kidney) vascular diseases.
  • Vascular erectile dysfunction (impotence)

Because vascular conditions and diseases may involve more than one of the body's systems at a time, many types of doctors treat vascular problems. Specialists in vascular medicine and surgery work closely with doctors in other specialties, such as internal medicine, interventional radiology and cardiology to ensure comprehensive care of patients with vascular conditions.

Am I at risk for a vascular condition?

The following conditions indicate an increased risk for developing a vascular condition, and screening may be appropriate.

  • Family history of vascular problems
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Heart condition
  • Doctor has recommended screening

What do I do if I am at risk?

  • See your doctor
  • Maintain normal blood pressure levels
  • Manage your diabetes
  • Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat healthy
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise
  • See a vascular surgeon to be tested for a vascular condition
  • See a vascular surgeon if a vascular condition has been diagnosed