Vascular Surgery for Savannah Seniors

Vascular Disease and Surgery Options for Savannah’s Seniors

vascularsurgeryTwo of the most common forms of vascular disease in the elderly are atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and abdominal aortic aneurysms. For Savannah seniors suffering from either disease, extensive surgery used to be the only treatment option, and as a result, local elderly patients with health or frailty issues had no treatment options at all. Over the last two decades, however, the treatment of vascular disease for seniors in Savannah has undergone a revolution, and thanks to the development of balloon angioplasty, stents, and stent-grafts, many seniors now have treatment options that were once considered impossible.

What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is caused by the deposition of cholesterol in the walls of arteries forming blockages called plaques. Hereditary factors can play a role in determining if a person will develop atherosclerosis, but smoking and diabetes greatly accelerate the course of the disease. Atherosclerosis can affect all parts of the body but is most devastating when it involves the arteries to the heart, the brain, the kidneys, and the legs. Heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and amputation are the end results if the disease is untreated. The good news is that with regular physical examinations and simple ultrasound testing, blockages can often be detected before major health complications occur.

Aortic Aneurysm Defined

An aneurysm is an area of a blood vessel that has become weakened, and as a result, has expanded and dilated like a balloon. The blood vessel most commonly involved by aneurysm disease is the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body. As aneurysms grow larger, the wall of the blood vessel becomes vulnerable to rupture, a usually fatal event.
As vascular specialists, our goal is to find all aortic aneurysms before they rupture. Aortic aneurysms can be found on examination of the abdomen during a routine check-up. They can also be found on ultrasound, X-ray, or CT scans of the chest or abdomen. Ultrasound screening exams are recommended for most patients 65 and older. Aneurysms are also hereditary in many cases, and anyone who has had a family member with a diagnosis of aneurysm is at significant risk.

Treating Vascular Disease with Balloon Angioplasty, Stents, & Stent Grafts

Once it is determined that a patient has developed either atherosclerosis or an aortic aneurysm, vascular surgeons now have treatment options for their patients that are less invasive and more effective than the major surgeries that were once required.

With the development of the balloon angioplasty procedure, a surgeon can now combat atherosclerosis using a fine tube called a catheter, which is inserted into the femoral artery through a small nick in the skin. The catheter is then manipulated using X-ray guidance into the artery to be treated. At the tip of the catheter is a sausage-shaped balloon. The balloon is placed across an area of blockage and then inflated to a very high pressure opening up the blockage and restoring normal blood flow.

In some cases, a fine wire mesh tube called a stent is inserted into the artery to keep the area open. Extensive surgery that used to require weeks or months of recovery is now the exception. Today most angioplasty and stent procedures are performed on an outpatient basis, and many can even be done in the doctor’s office. Elderly patients who were once considered too old or frail for treatment are now treated routinely and safely.

And with the development of the stent graft, the surgical repair of aortic aneurysms can now be accomplished successfully without opening the chest or abdomen and with a fraction of the recovery time. A stent graft is a soft plastic or fabric tube supported by a wire exoskeleton. Stent grafts are inserted into the aorta through small incisions over the femoral arteries in the groin. Blood flows through the stent graft reducing pressure on the aneurysm, which over time can shrink. After a stent graft procedure, patients are observed overnight in the hospital and usually return home the following day.

Conclusion

While vascular diseases like atherosclerosis and aortic aneurysms will continue to present significant health challenges for the elderly, they can now be treated quickly and safely by vascular surgeons who enjoy an array of treatment options. With balloon angioplasty, stents, and stent-grafts, elderly patients who were once turned down for the extensive surgical repair necessary to treat their vascular disease, can now be treated quickly and safely with minimal recovery time. To ensure the best results when treating vascular disease, however, early detection is critical. If you are over the age of 65, regular visits to your physician together with ultrasound testing should become part of your annual routine. And it never hurts to stop smoking!