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Aortoiliac Occlusive disease
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What is aortoiliac occlusive disease?
Aortoiliac occlusive disease occurs when your iliac arteries become narrowed or blocked. The aorta, your body's main artery, splits into branches at about the level of your belly button. These branches are called the iliac arteries. The iliac arteries go through your pelvis into your legs, where they divide into many smaller arteries that run down to your toes. Aortoiliac disease is considered a type of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), because it affects arteries that carry blood away from your heart to your limbs.
Your arteries are normally smooth and unobstructed on the inside, but as you age, a sticky substance called plaque can build up in the walls of your arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, and fibrous tissue. As more plaque builds up, it causes your arteries to narrow and stiffen. This process is called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Eventually, enough plaque builds up to interfere with blood flow in your iliac arteries or leg arteries. Physicians call this aortoiliac occlusive disease.
When your iliac arteries narrow or become blocked, your legs may not receive the blood and oxygen they need. This lack of oxygen is called ischemia and it can cause pain. In severe cases, sores or gangrene can develop, which can result in you losing a limb. However, these symptoms are uncommon.
What are the symptoms?
Early in the disease, you may feel pain, cramping, or fatigue in your lower body when you walk or exercise. The pain with walking usually occurs in your buttocks, thighs, and legs. This symptom is called intermittent claudication because it stops when you rest. As the disease worsens, you may find that pain occurs when you walk for shorter distances. Ultimately, you may feel pain, usually in your toes or feet, even when you are resting.
Some men who have aortoiliac occlusive disease also experience erectile dysfunction, the inability to have or maintain an erection.
Aortoiliac disease may worsen if it is not treated. Signs that it has advanced include:
Severe pain, coldness, and numbness in a limb
Sores on your toes, heels, or lower legs
Dry, scaly, cracked skin on your foot. Major cracks, or fissures, may become infected if left untreated
Weakened muscles in your legs
Gangrene (tissue death), which may require amputation
If you experience any of these advanced symptoms, it usually means that your leg arteries are blocked in more than one place. Your physician may need to treat more than one site to prevent gangrene or limb loss.
What causes aortoiliac occlusive disease?
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, causes most cases of aortoiliac occlusive disease.
Risk factors for hardening of the arteries include:
High blood pressure
Having a family history of heart disease
In rare cases, a condition known as Takayasu’s arteritis may cause blockages in your aorta and its branches. Takayasu’s arteritis usually affects young Asian women between the ages of 10 and 30.
What tests will I need?
First your physician asks you questions about your general health, medical history, and symptoms. In addition, your physician conducts a physical exam. Together these are known as a patient history and exam. As part of your history and exam, your physician will ask you if you smoke or have high blood pressure. Your physician will also want to know when your symptoms occur and how often. A pulse examination that checks your pulse in several places in your legs for weak or absent pulses is part of your physical exam. For this test, your physician will simply place his or her fingers over pulse points.
After the history and exam, if your physician suspects you may have aortoiliac disease, he or she will perform tests, such as:
Ankle-brachial index (ABI): For the ABI, your physician measures your blood pressure in your ankle and in your arm. Your physician will compare the two numbers to determine your ABI. Normally, the blood pressures in your ankle and arm should be about equal. But if your ankle pressure is half your arm pressure (or lower), your leg arteries are probably narrowed. To perform the ABI, your physician will use an ordinary blood pressure cuff and an ultrasound device. The ABI helps your physician diagnose aortoiliac disease, but it does not identify which arteries are blocked.
Doppler ultrasound: Doppler ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves that bounce off of blood cells and blood vessels to show blood flow and problems with the structure of blood vessels. This test identifies specific arteries that are blocked.
Angiography: In this test, your physician injects a contrast dye into your arteries and then takes x rays. The structure of your arteries appears on the x ray because x rays cannot pass through the dye. This test finds the exact location and pattern of blockages.
How is aortoiliac occlusive disease treated?
In mild to moderate cases, your physician may recommend that you change certain aspects of your lifestyle. If you are a smoker, the most important step you can take is to quit smoking. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your arteries. These chemicals can also increase your chance of having complications from aortoiliac occlusive disease.
In addition to quitting smoking, your physician may recommend that you maintain a healthy weight, follow a structured walking program at least 3 or 4 times a week, and eat a low-fat and high-fiber diet. These changes help slow hardening of the arteries.
If you have diabetes, you need to control your blood sugar levels. If necessary, your physician may prescribe medications to lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
If you have diabetes, your physician may recommend that you receive foot care from a qualified healthcare professional and learn the basics of caring for your feet at home. This includes practicing foot hygiene, wearing protective, well fitting, and cushioned footwear, and avoiding injuries to your foot. This type of care can be very important because you can lose feeling in your feet and develop sores on them.
If you do not have a disqualifying medical condition, such as heart
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