The vascular system is the body’s network of blood vessels that carry blood to and from the heart. It includes the arteries, veins and capillaries. Any problem that develops in this network of blood vessels is a vascular disease. Vascular disease can cause severe disability and death.

Atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of the arteries, can silently and slowly block arteries, putting blood flow at risk. It is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease (which affect blood vessels outside of the heart and brain).

Factors that increase your risk of developing vascular disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity (a body mass index over 30)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Increasing age, especially after reaching 50 years of age
  • A family history of peripheral artery disease, heart disease or stroke

There are many types of vascular disease. Below are the more common and serious ones, incuding their symptoms:

1. Stroke

  • Trouble with speaking and understanding.
  • Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg.
  • Trouble with seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Headache.
  • Trouble with walking.

2. Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

  • Painful cramping in your hip, thigh or calf muscles after certain activities, such as walking or climbing stairs (claudication)
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
  • Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won’t heal
  • A change in the color of your legs
  • Hair loss or slower hair growth on your feet and legs
  • Slower growth of your toenails
  • Shiny skin on your legs
  • No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

3. Abdominal aortic aneurysm

  • Sudden, intense and persistent abdominal or back pain, which can be described as a tearing sensation.
  • Pain that radiates to your back or legs.
  • Sweatiness.
  • Clamminess.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Low blood pressure.

4. Carotid artery disease (CAD)

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face or limbs, often on only one side of the body
  • Sudden trouble speaking and understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of balance
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

5. Pulmonary embolism

  • Shortness of breath that may occur suddenly.
  • Sudden, sharp chest pain that may become worse with deep breathing or coughing.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Sweating.
  • Anxiety.
  • Coughing up blood or pink, foamy mucus.
  • Fainting.

6. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Tenderness, and
  • Redness of the leg or arm


Your doctor will perform a physical examination, ask about your symptoms and discuss your medical history. He will suggest one or more diagnostic tests. These include:

  • Ultrasound. Special ultrasound imaging techniques, such as Doppler ultrasound, can help your doctor evaluate blood flow through your blood vessels and identify blocked or narrowed arteries.
  • Blood tests. A sample of your blood can be used to measure your cholesterol and triglycerides and to check for diabetes.
  • Angiography. By injecting a dye (contrast material) into your blood vessels, this test allows your doctor to view blood flow through your arteries as it happens. Your doctor is able to trace the flow of the contrast material using imaging techniques, such as X-ray imaging or procedures called magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or computerized tomography angiography (CTA).
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI). This is a common test used to diagnose peripheral artery disease. It compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm. To get a blood pressure reading, your doctor uses a regular blood pressure cuff and a special ultrasound device to evaluate blood pressure and flow. You may walk on a treadmill and have readings taken before and immediately after exercising to capture the severity of the narrowed arteries during walking.



The overall goals of treatment are to manage signs and symptoms, prevent worsening of the condition, and reduce the risk of complications. Treatment depends on the type of vascular disease, and includes lifestyle changes, medications, devices and surgery.

Related Articles


Overview and FactsTypes and SymptomsDiagnosis & MedicationsOverview and Facts Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, is [...]


Overview and FactsTypes and SymptomsDiagnosis & MedicationsOverview and Facts Juvenile polyposis syndrome (JPS) is a rare genetic disorder characterized by [...]


Overview and FactsTypes and SymptomsDiagnosis & MedicationsOverview and Facts Juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA) is a relatively common type of brain [...]