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The spectrum of vascular therapy options runs from mild lifestyle changes to major surgery. In addition to lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and exercise, other ways to treat vascular issues include a variety of medications, angioplasty, and bypass surgery. Oftentimes, treatment involves a combination of options.
Lifestyle changes recommended for vascular therapy include stopping smoking, losing weight, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress. Moreover, monitoring and managing underlying health issues can play an important role in vascular health. For example, a patient who brings his diabetes under control and lowers his cholesterol will be lowering his risk of heart attack.
Doctors often prescribe daily aspirin to treat vascular problems because aspirin makes it harder for blood to clot. This means that blood can more easily pass through narrowed arteries. Other medications used in vascular therapy include statins to lower blood cholesterol, and nitrates and and beta blockers to help blood vessels relax.
Angioplasty is a non-surgical vascular therapy treatment that helps widen arteries in the heart that are narrowed or blocked. Also called percutaneous coronary intervention, angioplasty involves temporarily threading a tiny balloon through the femoral artery to the site of the trouble. The balloon is expanded to widen the the artery. Oftentimes a stent, a small wire device, is implanted during the angioplasty to help keep the artery open.
Blood clots in the leg and blood clots in the lung are often treated in similar ways. In life-threatening situations, clot-busting medication called thrombolytics may be given intravenously. In less severe cases, doctors often use anticoagulants, also called blood thinners. Blood thinners do not break up clots; they are used to help prevent new clots from forming or keep the existing clot from growing. Initially, the treatment may be given via injection or intravenously. Oral medication is then usually prescribed for a number of months.
In addition to taking anticoagulant medication, a patient with deep vein thrombosis may be told to elevate the leg whenever possible, to wear compression stockings from the foot to the knee, and to get up and walk around frequently. Elevation, compression, and walking are helpful in reducing the pain and swelling that many patients experience.
Another treatment involves the insertion of a filter into the vena cava in the abdomen. This filter is made up of thin spokes that prevent a traveling clot from working its way to the lungs. If a large clot is present in the lung, doctors have the option of removing it via a catheter threaded through blood vessels.
Coronary artery bypass surgery is perhaps the most invasive type of vascular therapy. It works by going around a blocked heart artery or arteries. A healthy vessel from the patient's arm, leg, chest, or abdomen is grafted to the aorta and the blocked artery. The vessel graft restores blood flow because it allows the blood to bypass the blocked part of the artery. A bypass procedure is considered major surgery. The patient is placed on a heart-lung machine which does the work of the patient's heart and lung during the several hours that this surgery takes. Typically the patient's sternum is broken to provide surgical access to the heart. Occasionally, laser surgery is used in conjunction with bypass to reach certain areas of blockage.