The role of blood vessels is to carry blood (as well as nutrients and oxygen through that blood) throughout the body. The blood vessel itself consists of arteries, which can experience atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries resulting from a buildup of fat, cells and other substances. When this hardening occurs, the blood vessel experiences a narrowing that can make it more difficult for the blood to flow. This is what is referred to as vascular stenosis, and it affects the blood vessels leading to the brain, heart, and legs most often.
The causes of vascular stenosis aren’t always clear but can include:
- Diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance
- Tobacco use
- Vitamin B6 deficiency
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
- Dietary iodine deficiency
- Certain birth defects
Vascular stenosis can affect both men and women, though because atherosclerosis can take decades to build to a narrowing, it often isn’t discovered until men reach their 40s and women reach their 50s and 60s.
Neurovascular stenosis usually has no symptoms until the narrowing becomes severe. Many patients don’t even realize they are suffering from vascular stenosis until after they have experienced a stroke. Symptoms that may appear can also vary based on which artery or organ is most affected. These may include:
- Blurred vision
- Severe headaches
Vascular stenosis of the neck or brain can lead to strokes.
When vascular stenosis is suspected, your doctor may listen to the potentially impacted area with a stethoscope. This is because vascular stenosis often produces a distinct sound related to the unusual blood flow through the narrowed arteries. In order to confirm the diagnosis, however, medical imaging is required. This may include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)/Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
- Computed tomography (CT)/Computed tomography angiography (CTA)
- Catheter Angiography
Depending on the suspected cause of vascular stenosis, various lifestyle changes may be recommended, to include:
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight
- Exercising more
The treatment of associated conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, is also often recommended.
When vascular stenosis becomes severe (usually after a detected event, such as a stroke or heart attack), your interventional neuroradiologist may use image-guided, minimally invasive surgery to clear or widen the blocked arteries.