Vascular Disease in Women

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Vascular disease is a class of diseases of the blood vessels – the arteries and veins which circulate blood through the body. Peripheral Vascular Disease, or PVD, refers to diseases in any of the blood vessels outside of the heart arteries and veins.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of PVD caused by structural changes in the arteries. In PAD, fatty deposits build up in the inner lining of artery walls. These blockages restrict blood flow, mainly in arteries leading to the kidneys, stomach, arms, legs, feet, and brain. Left untreated, PAD can lead to gangrene and amputation of limbs. While both women and men are at risk for developing PAD, the condition tends to be under-recognized in women.

Peripheral Artery Disease and Stroke  

If blockages occur in a carotid artery – the major blood vessels that deliver blood to your brain – it can cause a stroke. Sometimes called a “brain attack,” stroke occurs when blood flow to an area in the brain is cut off. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the third leading cause of death for women (in comparison, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for men). Each year 55,000 more women have a stroke than men.

Peripheral Artery Disease and Aneurysm  

Any condition that weakens arterial walls can lead to an aneurysm, which is an abnormal bulge in the wall of a weakened blood vessel. While they often occur in the heart’s major artery – the aorta – aneurysms can also occur in the peripheral arteries.

An estimated 3 in 4 aortic aneurysms are abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) – aneurysms that occur in the part of the aorta running through the abdomen. An AAA can grow very large without producing symptoms, and about 1 in 5 will rupture. Research shows women with AAAs are at higher risk for rupture and have a higher-in-hospital mortality rate than men. Additionally, women who undergo surgery for aneurysm have higher 30-day mortality and readmission rates than men of a similar age.

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