The vascular system involves the heart and blood vessels. The blood vessels include arteries, which are tubes that transport blood from your heart to the rest of your body, and veins, which return the blood to your heart. This complex system is involved in many diverse functions, but the most important is transporting vital oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and organs.
- ARTERIES are thicker and are prone to developing blockages or dilations.
- VEINS are thinner and have valves that keep the blood moving back toward the heart. The larger deep veins of the legs can develop clots.
In general, diseases of the blood vessels (particularly the arteries) involve either blockage, usually due to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), or degeneration (weakening of the wall) resulting in aneurysm. Common diseases include:
- CAROTID ATHEROSCLEROSIS involves blockage of the arteries that supply the brain with blood. When these arteries become diseased, a stroke (brain damage) may result.
- AORTIC ANEURYSM involves degeneration of the main blood vessel within the body, the aorta. When the wall of the aorta weakens, it starts to dilate. Rupture of the aorta in this circumstance can lead to death.
- PERIPHERAL ARTERIAL DISEASE involves blockage of the arteries that supply the legs with blood. When these arteries become diseased, the person may be unable to walk without pain, or may even lose his/her limbs.