The arteries and veins in the body have some of the most important jobs to do. They are part of an intricate and complex transportation system that helps move the blood, nutrients, and oxygen around throughout the body. While arteries transport oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body, veins are responsible for delivering the oxygen-deprived blood back to the heart. From the heart, once again, the process will start over with the pulmonary artery sending the blood back to your lungs, restocking it with oxygen, while the pulmonary vein brings the blood back to the heart again to carry on the process once again.(1, 2)
It is possible that sometimes, the veins or arteries become blocked or get narrowed, and the blood is not able to flow through them as easily as it should. Any kind of slowdown in the blood flow of the body prevents your organs from getting the nutrients and oxygen they need to survive and function properly. If the blood moves too slowly through the vessels, it can begin to pool and also form blood clots. This is why it is so important to keep your blood vessels healthy by taking care of what you eat and your overall health. Damage to the blood vessels can cause many types of serious health conditions to develop, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and many others.(3)
Here’s a look at some of the early symptoms of veins and artery problems and the health issues these can cause.
Early Symptoms of Veins and Artery Problems and What Condition They Cause
Coronary Artery Disease
One of the most common conditions that problems with your veins and arteries cause is coronary artery disease. This condition happens when sticky fat, known as plaque, starts accumulating in the walls of the coronary arteries. Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply your heart with blood. The build-up of plaque starts to narrow the arteries, slowing down the flow of blood to the heart. If a piece of plaque then breaks off and gets stuck in the artery, it can block off the blood flow completely, causing a heart attack.(4, 5)
Also known as coronary heart disease, this is the most common type of heart disease, estimated to kill over 350,000 people in the United States alone every year.(6, 7) Some of the early symptoms that you are having some problems in the veins and arteries and that you may already have developed coronary artery disease are as follows:
- Chest pain (known as angina).
- Pain that spreads to the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, or the back.
- Shortness of breath.
- Heaviness or tightness in the chest.
- Burning sensation or pain in the chest, just behind the breastbone.
- Excessive sweating
- Weakness and severe tiredness, especially during and after physical activity.
To reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, follow a heart-healthy diet (which is low in sodium and saturated fats and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, etc.) and remain physically active. Even exercising for ten minutes every day can significantly lower your risk. If you are on any medications for managing your blood pressure, controlling high cholesterol, or high blood sugar levels, it is essential that you continue taking them as prescribed and in a timely manner.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease is another condition that is caused when there is a problem with your arteries. The peripheral arteries are responsible for transporting blood to your arms and legs. In this kind of condition, plaque starts accumulating in the artery walls, and similar to what happens in coronary artery disease, the plaque that builds up causes the narrowing of the arteries. This leaves lesser room for blood to flow through. If the legs stop getting sufficient nutrients and oxygen, they will start feeling tired and sore when they climb stairs, exercise, or walk. Having peripheral vascular disease increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke significantly.(9, 10, 11)
Many people with peripheral vascular disease often do not experience any symptoms, but those who do experience symptoms, tend to feel pain in their calf muscles, buttocks, or thighs while exercising or walking. Some of the symptoms of peripheral vascular disease include:
- Bluish or pale skin
- Wounds over pressure points that refuse to heal, including on the ankles or heels.
- Restricted mobility.
- Thickened and opaque toenails.
- Slow growing toenails.
- Sores on feet, toes, or legs that heal slowly or not at all.
- Decreased skin temperature.
- Thin and brittle skin on the legs and feet.
- Shiny skin on the legs and feet.
- Varicose veins
- Weakened pulse in the feet and legs.
- Gangrene, in severe cases.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Numbness, heaviness, or weakness in muscles.
- Aching or burning sensation and pain while at rest, usually in the toes, and at nighttime when lying flat.
- Feeling cold in the lower leg or foot, usually on one side of the body.
- Painful cramping in one or both thighs, calf muscles, or hips, especially after physical activity.
- Pain or cramping in the arms, especially when doing manual tasks like writing or knitting.
- Slow growing hair or complete hair loss on the legs.
If peripheral vascular disease gets worse, you will start experiencing pain even while resting or lying down. The pain may also disrupt your sleep. You may find that hanging your legs over the edge of the bed or walking slowly helps relieve the pai9n for some time.(12, 13)
Pulmonary embolism is a term used to refer to a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs. In most cases, this is caused by blood clots that travel from the deep veins located in your legs to the lungs, or in rare instances, from veins in other parts of the body, known as deep vein thrombosis.(14, 15)
Since the blood clots block the flow of blood to the lungs, pulmonary embolism can be fatal. However, if immediate treatment is given, it can reduce the risk of death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease, cancer, or surgery increases the risk of developing a blood clot that leads to pulmonary embolism. Staying immobile for an extended period of time can also significantly increase the risk.(16, 17)
The symptoms of pulmonary embolism vary greatly and are usually different for every person. It also depends on how much of the lung is involved, the size of the blood clots, and whether you have any underlying heart or lung condition. Nevertheless, here are some of the common signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism that may indicate there is a problem with your arteries or veins and that you are at a higher risk of this condition:(18)
- Cough, which might be bloody or blood-streaked sputum.
- Shortness of breath, which usually appears suddenly and tends to get worse with physical exertion.
- Chest pain – It may feel like you have a heart attack. The pain is usually sharp and felt more when you breathe in deeply. It may stop you from taking a deep breath, or you may feel the pain when bending, stooping, or coughing.
To prevent pulmonary embolism, you should assess your risk factors for developing blood clots while controlling factors like smoking, lack of physical activity, managing your weight, etc.
If you notice thick and twisted blue or skin-colored veins in your legs, it might be that you have varicose veins. Also known as varicosities or varicoses, varicose veins occur when the veins become dilated, enlarged and they get overfilled with blood. Varicose veins usually appear raised and swollen, lying underneath your skin. They have a red or bluish-purple color and are usually painful. This is a very common condition and usually affects women. Nearly 25 percent of all adults have varicose veins, especially on the lower legs.(19, 20)
The valves present inside your veins keep the blood flowing towards the heart. These valves prevent the blood from going backward and pooling up. When the veins are weak, these valves can get easily damaged and allow the blood to back up. As it starts to accumulate, the vein swells up and starts to twist.(21, 22)
Varicose veins usually affect the legs, which are the veins that lie farthest from the heart. Gravity makes it challenging for the blood in this part to flow upward. According to Vascular Cures, which is a not-for-profit research and advocacy organization, it is estimated that nearly 20 to 25 million people in the US suffer from varicose veins.(23)
Some of the symptoms of varicose veins include:
- Visible, misshapen veins on the legs
- Pain, over or around the enlarged veins
In some severe cases, the veins may also bleed significantly, causing ulcers to form. If your varicose veins cause pain, swelling, itching, or burning, you should show them to a doctor. Staying physically active, managing your weight, and keeping your blood pressure under control can help reduce the risk of varicose veins. Exercises that strengthen the calf muscles can also help prevent the development of varicose veins.(24)
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a large area in the lower part of the important blood vessels that supply blood to the body, known as the aorta. The aorta travels from the heart, crosses the center of the chest to reach the abdomen. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, and a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can cause a life-threatening condition and bleeding. Depending on the size of the abdominal aortic aneurysm and how fast it expands, treatment will vary from a careful watch and wait to emergency surgery.(25, 26, 27)
Almost 75 percent of abdominal aortic aneurysms do not cause any symptoms, which is why they are often referred to as the silent killer. This is just another reminder of why it is so important to take care of your veins and arteries and limit your risk factors for the narrowing of your blood vessels which is the leading cause of such types of conditions.(28)
The most common symptom of an abdominal aortic aneurysm is a pain in the abdomen, lower back, groin, or the chest area. Sudden and severe pain in the abdomen or back usually indicates that the aneurysm is reaching a point of rupture, which is a life-threatening medical condition and requires immediate medical assistance. However, it’s not necessary that all aneurysms will rupture. Some aneurysms actually never rupture and remain small, while others grow large quite quickly.
If you notice the following symptoms, it might indicate that your abdominal aortic aneurysm is growing in size:
- Chronic back pain
- Deep, constant pain in the abdomen or side of the abdomen.
- Feeling a pulse near the belly button.
If you experience sudden and severe pain, you should consult a doctor or seek immediate medical assistance.
It is essential to protect your veins and arteries to prevent such types of conditions from developing. You can start by ensuring your diet is made up of healthy foods that are low in saturated fat. You should also follow a result exercise schedule most days of the week. If you smoke, quit at the earliest as it is known to cause damage to your arteries. To prevent blood clots from developing, it is important to avoid sitting in one position for a long time. Even if you are on a car trip or a long flight, it is recommended to keep getting up from time to time and walk about a little to keep the blood circulation going in your legs. Taking good care of your veins and arteries can prevent most of these problems from developing.
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- Corada, M., Morini, M.F. and Dejana, E., 2014. Signaling pathways in the specification of arteries and veins. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology, 34(11), pp.2372-2377.
- Szasz, T., Thakali, K., Fink, G.D. and Watts, S.W., 2007. A comparison of arteries and veins in oxidative stress: producers, destroyers, function, and disease. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 232(1), pp.27-37.
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- Fuster, V., Badimon, L., Badimon, J.J. and Chesebro, J.H., 1992. The pathogenesis of coronary artery disease and the acute coronary syndromes. New England journal of medicine, 326(4), pp.242-250.
- Anon, 2022. Heart disease facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm [Accessed September 19, 2022].
- Okrainec, K., Banerjee, D.K. and Eisenberg, M.J., 2004. Coronary artery disease in the developing world. American heart journal, 148(1), pp.7-15.
- Anon, 2021. Coronary artery disease – coronary heart disease. www.heart.org. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/coronary-artery-disease [Accessed September 19, 2022].
- Baumgartner, I., Schainfeld, R. and Graziani, L., 2005. Management of peripheral vascular disease. Annual review of medicine, 56, p.249.
- Palumbo, P. and Melton III, L.J., 1995. Peripheral vascular disease. Diabetes in America, 401.
- Sontheimer, D.L., 2006. Peripheral vascular disease: diagnosis and treatment. American family physician, 73(11), pp.1971-1976.
- Eagle, K.A., Rihal, C.S., Foster, E.D., Mickel, M.C. and Gersh, B.J., 1994. Long-term survival in patients with coronary artery disease: importance of peripheral vascular disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 23(5), pp.1091-1095.
- Halperin, J.L., 2002. Evaluation of patients with peripheral vascular disease. Thrombosis research, 106(6), pp.V303-V311.
- Tapson, V.F., 2008. Acute pulmonary embolism. New England Journal of Medicine, 358(10), pp.1037-1052.
- Kearon, C., 2003. Diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. Cmaj, 168(2), pp.183-194.
- Anon, 2022. Data and statistics on venous thromboembolism. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/data.html [Accessed September 20, 2022].
- Agnelli, G. and Becattini, C., 2010. Acute pulmonary embolism. New England Journal of Medicine, 363(3), pp.266-274.
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- Gloviczki, P. and Gloviczki, M.L., 2012. Guidelines for the management of varicose veins. Phlebology, 27(1_suppl), pp.2-9.
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