Your body's main blood vessel, known as the aorta, is located in the pelvis and supplies blood to your legs. Aortoiliac occlusive disease occurs when this blood vessel becomes blocked. Oxygen and nutrients aren't able to reach your leg muscles and this can cause muscle pain and the degeneration of tissue in your feet and lower legs, which can lead to ulcers and skin infections. Here's what you need to know about this serious vascular condition:
Causes And Symptoms
Aortoiliac occlusive disease is caused by a build-up of plaque in the aorta, which causes narrowing and eventually complete blockage. Plaque, which can also cause hardening of the surrounding arteries, is an accumulation of fatty deposits derived from bad cholesterol, and it can gather in the aorta when the delicate lining of this vital blood vessel is damaged. There are risk factors that make the lining of the aorta more vulnerable, and these include smoking, high cholesterol and raised blood pressure.
Aside from leg pain, symptoms of aortoiliac occlusive disease include leg cramps and becoming easily fatigued when exercising. As the blockage worsens, you can experience numbness or coldness anywhere from your buttocks to your feet, and men can experience erectile dysfunction. If you develop foot or leg ulcers, gangrene can take hold quickly due to impaired blood supply to the infected area.
Diagnosis And Treatment Approach
Aortoiliac occlusive disease can be diagnosed with a CT angiogram. This is a diagnostic imaging technique that uses dye, which is delivered intravenously, to highlight the aorta and surrounding arteries. This allows a vascular surgeon to see the extent of damage and narrowing that's occurred.
Once diagnosed, your doctor will recommend a treatment approach based on the severity of the plaque build-up. You will be offered support if you need to make lifestyle modifications, such as giving up smoking or altering your diet to reduce your cholesterol levels. Inserting a stent in your aorta is a minimally invasive procedure that's often recommended as a first-line treatment approach. The stent, which is like a mesh tube, holds the aorta open by pressing against its walls to create a clear path for blood to flow to the lower half of your body.
If the narrowing of your aorta is severe, your doctor may recommend a surgical bypass. This procedure is carried out using general anaesthetic and involves your surgeon creating a new pathway between the start of the aorta and the arteries in your groin. This means your aorta is no longer needed and your legs will receive blood via the new route created by your doctor.
If you're experiencing any of the symptoms associated with aortoiliac occlusive disease, or if you have concerns about your vascular health, ask your GP to refer you to a vascular surgeon for assessment.