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HealthInfo Canterbury

Problems with arteries

Arteries are found in every part of your body. All arteries can be affected by arterial disease. In some parts of the body, arterial disease has little or no affect and doesn’t need treating. In other parts, for example the heart, arterial disease can cause life-threatening conditions and needs treating.

Arteries narrowing or getting blocked due to hardening of the arteries' walls is the most common form of arterial disease. This is called atherosclerosis (a-ther-oh-scler-oh-sis). Atherosclerosis can cause heart disease, strokes, peripheral vascular disease and a lack of blood supply to a limb, that can damage the limb.

Atherosclerosis can also weaken an artery's wall so that it widens or bulges. This is called an aneurysm (an-yur-ism). Aneurysms can burst and bleed, or block and stop blood flow. When they burst or block suddenly it can be a life- or limb-threatening emergency, which needs emergency treatment.

An arterial wall can tear along its length without bursting. This is called a dissection. A dissection isn't very common, but it's very painful and affects the blood supply to major organs. It can be life-threatening without emergency treatment.

A dissection is a complicated disease most commonly caused by high blood pressure. Some genetic (hereditary) diseases can also cause a weakness in the arterial wall.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Vascular Surgery, Canterbury DHB. Page created July 2018.

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Aortic dissection

Peripheral vascular disease

Page reference: 404073

Review key: HIBLV-403653