Poor Circulation and Atherosclerosis What You Need To Know

Alexander H. Hou MD, FACS,

Poor Circulation and Atherosclerosis What You Need To KnowYour body’s circulation system is responsible for sending blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout your body. When blood flow to a specific part of your body is reduced, you may experience the symptoms of poor circulation. Poor circulation is most common in your extremities, such as your legs and arms.

Poor circulation isn’t a condition in itself. Instead, it results from other health issues.

Atherosclerosis occurs when arteries that carry blood to your heart, head, organs, or limbs become narrowed or blocked by a buildup of plaque. Plaque can be made up of several things such as cholesterol, fatty substances, blood cells, and scar tissue. Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke, or even death. When atherosclerosis occurs in the arteries carrying blood to the brain it is called cerebro/vascular disease (CVD). When atherosclerosis occurs in the arteries carrying blood to the extremities, it is called peripheral artery/vascular disease (PAD or PVD).

Cerebro/Vascular Disease (CVD)
CVD is the term used to describe atherosclerosis of the blood vessels that carry blood to the brain. Blockage of these vessels can lead to a stroke. Many of these blockages can be treated, therefore patients felt to be at risk should have a screening (carotid) ultrasound.

Treatment Options:
•  Open Surgery – Carotid Endarterectomy (CEA)
• Carotid Stenting – performed through a small puncture in the groin (femoral artery) with a fi lter device that is advanced prior to placing a stent. Very high success rate with low complications.

Peripheral Artery/Vascular Disease (PAD or PVD)
When the arteries that supply blood to your arms, legs, kidneys, or intestines develop blockage it is called PAD or PVD.   The most common place for PAD is in the arteries that provide blood fl ow to your lower extremities. With PAD, when the muscles of your legs and arms are working harder (such as during walking or exercise) there is not enough blood fl ow and oxygen secondary to blockage, causing discomfort, weakness or cramping in the legs. When peripheral arterial disease is more advanced, it can impair wound healing and cause discoloration to the feet and toes.

Treatment Options:
•  Medical/Conservative Therapy (for mild disease)
•  Surgical Bypass (for more advanced disease)
•  Minimally invasive techniques such as plaque excision (atherectomy), balloon angioplasty, and stenting (most favored, less invasive, with good outcomes)

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)
An Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm is when the large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs (Aorta) becomes abnormally large or balloons outward, usually caused by a weakness in the artery wall. AAAs are usually very slow growing and do not cause any symptoms. Aneurysms of the aorta can rupture suddenly with a high likelihood of death.   They are more common in people who have risk factors such as smoking history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, male gender, or a family history of aneurysms. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm can be screened for by a non-invasive testing such as an ultrasound. Once an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm grows to a certain size or has rapid growth, it may need to be repaired.

Treatment Options:
• Open Surgery – Higher risk, longer recovery time
• Endovascular Aneurysm Repair (EVAR) – minimally invasive alternative to major open surgery, resulting in reduced recovery times and potentially improved survival rates. EVAR is performed using an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Stent Graft, and can be done through a small puncture in each groin (percutaneously). The AAA stent graft is placed within the aneurysm to provide a permanent, alternative conduit for blood fl ow within the patient’s vasculature, thereby excluding the aneurysmal sac from blood fl ow and pressure and preventing the walls of the aneurysm from rupturing.

As some poor circulation causes can be serious or even life threatening health conditions, a medical evaluation is very important at the onset of symptoms. For instance, if atherosclerosis is at hand, medications may be required to treat the condition, which worsens with progression. In other instances, lifestyle changes can be essential to treating and managing the condition. Smoking can be a big contributing factor, and it should be ceased. Dietary changes targeted at reducing fat intake and lowering cholesterol are also important as well as adding in healthy doses of exercise. Avoiding some over the counter cold medications, which can exacerbate symptoms, is useful in treating the condition as well.

The first step in treating the disease is to consult with a health care provider to identify the source of the symptoms if applicable, to rule out ominous and potentially very serious underlying conditions. From here, a suitable treatment plan that includes medical care, healthy lifestyle changes as well as the avoidance of triggers that can worsen the condition can be employed to successful manage peripheral artery disease. Speak with your primary care provider for a referral to a vascular specialist if you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed above.

If you are experiencing symptoms of poor circulation or have questions about other vascular conditions call Vascular Institute of Kentucky at 606-324-1070 for more information today!

Alexander H. Hou MD, FACS, is a skilled Board Certified and fellowship trained vascular surgeon specializing in the treatment of arterial and venous diseases employing both open and endovascular techniques. Dr. Hou is a member of Society for Vascular Surgery, a premier society for vascular surgeons, in addition to several other regional vascular societies, also a Fellow of American College of Surgeons. He has publications in several peer reviewed journals focusing on vascular diagnostic and interventions using duplex ultrasound.

Dr. Hou has been practicing in Ashland since 2005 and is known for delivering high quality vascular care exemplified by the “minimal incision” surgical technique resulting in less pain, better healing and esthetically more appeasing scars.

Vascular Institute of Kentucky


Medical Plaza A
617 23rd Street, Suite 445
Ashland, KY 41101

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