How to Improve Vascular Health – What You Need to Know

Do you know what it means to improve vascular health? The recent addition of a new vascular surgeon to our practice has revealed that many people aren’t clear on what vascular health is and likewise, the vital role vascular surgeons play in healthcare. When I began my training as a surgeon some thirty years ago, we trained in everything, or what’s commonly known as general surgery. Today, surgeons can acquire specialty training in areas such as vascular surgery.  

While I’m a board-certified general and vascular surgeon, I’m considered a vascular surgeon. Below, I’ll share the vital role vascular surgeons play, what vascular disease looks like, and how to improve vascular health.  

Vascular Disease

As vascular surgeons, we treat vascular disease, which affects the vascular system, which is made up of your body’s arteries, veins, or blood vessels. But who does vascular disease affect? Well, everyone but genetics plays a significant role. Even if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, such things as a family history of heart disease, stroke, or a leg bypass warrant attention. Other risk factors also include obesity, smoking, and diabetes.

For those with a family history of heart disease or stroke, you should also be concerned about atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a thickening or hardening of the arteries due to cholesterol buildup in the blood vessels. Individuals with atherosclerosis are prime candidates. 

Where Vascular Disease Can Show Up

The Brain

The scariest place where vascular disease can show up is in the brain as a stroke.

Improve vascular health by knowing where vascular disease shows up.

If you are having severe symptoms, you should seek emergency care. It’s vital to make an appointment to see your doctor immediately for more subtle symptoms. When you visit your doctor, I encourage you to ask that they listen to your neck. Your doctor can listen for a sound in the blood vessel called a bruit, which could prompt further testing, such as an ultrasound. This way, you can know your risk level for a stroke.

The Lower Extremities 

Symptoms of vascular disease in the lower extremities can show up as pain in the calves when you walk or numbness and tingling in the feet. In general, it’s painful when walking and not being able to walk far because your legs hurt. 

More severe symptoms are open sores on the feet and discoloration of the toes. People with diabetes are very prone to getting open sores on their feet. If you have a family history of heart attack, stroke, or a leg bypass, it’s essential to talk to your doctor about vascular screening with an ultrasound to assess your risk level as well as the potential for plaque buildup in your lower extremities. 

How to Improve Vascular Health

Even with genetic risk factors for vascular disease, taking charge of your vascular health involves taking specific actions and adopting certain lifestyle habits. Below, I’ll outline the actions and habits to improve your vascular health. 

  1. Regular Check-Ups. Regular check-ups, especially for those fifty years and older, are critical. These exams play a vital role in early detection, especially in subtle symptoms of vascular disease.

  1. No Smoking. Smoking causes hardening of the arteries. Most people don’t often associate it with vascular disease. Still, it’s the number one cause of issues for vascular disease in the heart and blood vessels. 

  1. Cholesterol Checks. Have your cholesterol checked. If you have high cholesterol, modify your diet to high protein, low fat, and low carb. Minimize processed foods and try to eat more fresh and healthy foods. With the advice of your doctor, you may also consider a cholesterol-lowering drug called a statin.

  1. Baby Aspirin. If you have atherosclerosis or a family history of it, consider taking a baby aspirin a day.

  1. Exercise. Incorporate daily exercise of 20-30 minutes.  

  1. Vascular Screening. Vascular screenings are essential for those who have genetic risk factors. These screenings include ultrasounds to help detect plaque buildup in blood vessels. Private companies also do these vascular screenings if you are concerned about your risk factors.  

Be Your Best Advocate

Be your best advocate. If you have questions or concerns about any symptoms you may be experiencing, it’s essential to address those with your doctor. As doctors, we have many resources at our disposal to help assess your risk of vascular disease. Knowing this can help us determine the best course of action in the future. I hope what I’ve shared sheds some light on vascular surgeons’ vital role in improving vascular health as I continue to bring you care beyond the visit.

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