Arterial occlusive disease - when the arteries clog

Everyone knows the evil consequences of arteriosclerosis on the heart and brain: Heart attack and stroke are life-threatening, common diseases, which every person in advanced age is afraid of. However, the arteriosclerosis also leads to abdominal and leg arteries to serious diseases. This is referred to as arterial occlusive disease (AVC) or, more correctly, in connection with the extremities, in peripheral arterial disease (PAOD).

What is arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis is a hardening and constriction of the arteries that takes years or decades, that is, the blood vessels that carry the blood away from the heart. The narrowing of the arteries leads to a reduced blood flow and a lower supply of oxygen in the organs and body parts.

Unfortunately, we still do not know exactly why arteriosclerosis develops, but there are certain risk factors that can lead to arteriosclerosis more quickly.

How does arteriosclerosis develop?

Arteriosclerosis does not occur overnight but creeping and unrecognized. 20 to 40 years may pass before the first symptoms appear, but they are already serious. The clogged blood vessels cause the affected organ under load is poorly supplied with oxygen - pain is the result. In the heart these symptoms are called angina pectoris, in the gastrointestinal tract severe abdominal pain occurs after a meal, the so-called angina abdominalis.

In extreme cases, it comes to an arterial occlusion and thus a heart attack, intestinal infarction or stroke. The arterial occlusive disease caused by arteriosclerosis affects not only the heart and brain, but all the arteries of the body, and more often the arteries below the diaphragm: the abdominal, pelvic, and leg arteries.

How common is an arterial occlusive disease?

In Germany, about 4.5 million people are affected by an AVC. Meanwhile, one in ten people between 55 and 65 suffers from arterial occlusive disease, and after the age of 65, one in five is affected.

Approximately 80, 000 people are constantly under medical treatment for an AVC and around 35, 000 people annually have to undergo an amputation because the tissue that is no longer perfused would otherwise lead to life-threatening blood poisoning.

How is an AVK expressed?

An AVC causes symptoms only at an advanced stage. Physicians divide the AVK into four stages:

  • Although in the first stage it is possible to detect a narrowing of the arteries by means of imaging techniques - the patient still does not notice, because the blood flow is sufficient even under stress of the affected arteries, for example during prolonged walking.
  • In the second stage, it comes with prolonged stress to pain, which forces the person in the case of narrowed leg arteries to stop. This stage is also called Shop Window Disease (Claudicatio Intermittens). At least now you should be active to stop the progression of AVK.
  • In the third stage, the pain also occurs at rest, often at night, when the legs are raised and gravity can not support blood flow in the arteries.
  • In the fourth stage, the circulation is reduced so that the affected tissue dies. Of these, the furthest parts of the body, ie the toes, are usually affected.

The fact that circulatory disorders affect not only the muscles, but all body tissues in the affected area can be seen, for example, in the changes in the skin such as healing disorders and a decrease in hairiness.

Narrowing of the arteries in the gastrointestinal tract

A massive narrowing of the arteries in the gastrointestinal tract on the other hand can balance the body long, because between the individual arteries fortunately there are connections, so that in a strong narrowing of an artery, the blood can pass through other to the hypoxia-sensitive intestine. But the consequences of a massive lack of oxygen can be life-threatening.

Since after the meal, the blood circulation of the intestine is particularly required because of the absorption of the food components, it comes in angina abdominalis to painful colic, if the intestine can not perform this task. It becomes life-threatening for the person concerned, if a constricted abdominal artery completely clogged, the other arteries can not take over the oxygen transport and the intestine dies.

It must be removed as soon as possible because otherwise the dead tissue causes peritonitis, which affects the entire abdomen. The necessary large abdominal surgery is then an emergency operation and carries a high risk for the person concerned.

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