Home Locations UCHealth Vein and Vascular Surgery Center - Memorial Hospital North
Hours
Monday: 7:30am – 5pm
Tuesday: 7:30am – 5pm
Wednesday: 7:30am – 5pm
Thursday: 7:30am – 5pm
Friday: 7:30am – 5pm
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: Closed
Your team
Mark Braun, NP
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Surgery

Gregory A Carlson, MD
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Vascular Surgery

Stanley Podolski, PA-C
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Surgery

Keyan Riley, MD
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Surgery - Adult General Thoracic Surgery

Annette Seagraves, MD
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Vascular Surgery

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This IAC accreditation indicates that UCHealth Vein and Vascular Surgery Center – Memorial Hospital North demonstrates a commitment to quality patient care in vein treatment and management.

At UCHealth Vein and Vascular Surgery Center – Memorial Hospital North, we evaluate and treat all conditions affecting the vascular system (arteries and veins) with a team of vascular surgeons who are highly specialized and board certified to specifically treat vascular disease and disorders.

Our board-certified vascular surgeons

When it comes to vein disease care, severe or not, insist that your care is provided by a board-certified vascular surgeon at a leading Colorado Springs vein center. No other physician specialty receives more direct vascular-specific evaluation and treatment training than a vascular surgeon.

Our vascular surgeons are board-certified by the American Board of Surgery (ABS). A vascular surgeon is specifically trained to evaluate and treat disease and disorders affecting the vascular system (basically, the arteries and veins outside the heart). Additionally, our vascular surgeons play an integral role in Level I trauma and emergency care at Memorial Hospital, one of the busiest in the nation. That lets you know that you’re receiving care from the most highly trained and experienced vascular surgeons.

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About the University of Colorado Health Vein Center at Memorial Hospital

About the University of Colorado Health Vein Center at Memorial Hospital

The University of Colorado Health Vein Center is the vascular surgery clinic for Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At the University of Colorado Health Vein Center, we evaluate and treat all conditions affecting the vascular system (arteries and veins). We are the leading Colorado Springs vein center with a team of vascular surgeons who are highly-specialized and board-certified to specifically treat vascular disease and disorders.

Our Board-certified Vascular Surgeons

When it comes to vein disease care, severe or not, insist that your care is provided by a board-certified vascular surgeon at a leading Colorado Springs vein center. No other physician specialty receives more direct vascular-specific evaluation and treatment training than a vascular surgeon.

At the University of Colorado Health Vein Center, our vascular surgeons are board-certified by the American Board of Surgery (ABS). A vascular surgeon is specifically trained to evaluate and treat disease and disorders affecting the vascular system (basically, the arteries and veins outside the heart). Additionally, our vascular surgeons play an integral role in Level II trauma and emergency care at Memorial Hospital, one of the busiest in the nation. That lets you know that you’re receiving care from the most highly trained and experienced vascular surgeons.

Our Services

Vein disease (also called vascular disease or venous disease) is a condition that affects the arteries and/or veins. Most often, vein disease affects blood flow, either by blocking or weakening blood vessels, or by damaging the valves that are found in veins. Organs and other body structures may be damaged by vein disease as a result of decreased or completely blocked blood flow.

At the University of Colorado Health Vein Center, we offer complete vein care for all vein disease conditions. Our procedures include medical therapy, minimally-invasive catheter procedures, and surgical reconstruction.

  • Leg Pain and Leg Swelling
  • Varicose Veins (Spider Veins)
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
  • Carotid Artery Disease
  • Claudication
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease
  • Raynaud’s Phenomenon
  • Renal Vascular Disease

Schedule a Consultation

Get relief from vein disease by scheduling a consultation with a board-certified vascular surgeon at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center today. To schedule a consultation, please call 719-364-8346.

Treatments

We offer the most complete range vein disease treatments in Colorado Springs.

Get highly-specialized care for painful, swollen, and ugly legs from board-certified vascular surgeons at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center. Our Colorado Springs vein disease care services include:

  • Leg Pain and Leg Swelling
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
  • Carotid Artery Disease
  • Claudication
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease
  • Raynaud’s Phenomenon
  • Renal Vascular Disease
  • Varicose Veins & Spider Veins

Overview of the Vascular System

The vascular system, also called the circulatory system, is made up of the vessels that carry blood and lymph through the body. The arteries and veins carry blood throughout the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body tissues and taking away tissue waste matter. The lymph vessels carry lymphatic fluid (a clear, colorless fluid containing water and blood cells). The lymphatic system helps to protect and maintain the fluid environment of the body by filtering and draining lymph away from each region of the body. The vessels of the blood circulatory system are:

  • Arteries – Blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to the body
  • Veins – Blood vessels that carry blood from the body back into the heart
  • Capillaries – Tiny blood vessels between arteries and veins that distribute oxygen-rich blood to the body

Blood moves through the circulatory system as a result of being pumped out by the heart. Blood leaving the heart through the arteries is saturated with oxygen. The arteries break down into smaller and smaller branches in order to bring oxygen and other nutrients to the cells of the body’s tissues and organs. As blood moves through the capillaries, the oxygen and other nutrients move out into the cells, and waste matter from the cells moves into the capillaries. As the blood leaves the capillaries, it moves through the veins, which become larger and larger to carry the blood back to the heart.

In addition to circulating blood and lymph throughout the body, the vascular system functions as an important component of other body systems. Examples include:

  • Respiratory system – As blood flows through the capillaries in the lungs, carbon dioxide is given up and oxygen is picked up. The carbon dioxide is expelled from the body through the lungs, and the oxygen is taken to the body tissues by the blood.
  • Digestive system – As food is digested, blood flows through the intestinal capillaries and picks up nutrients, such as glucose (sugar), vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients are delivered to the body tissues by the blood.
  • Kidneys and urinary system – Waste materials from the body tissues are filtered out from the blood as it flows through the kidneys. The waste material then leaves the body in the form of urine.
  • Temperature control – Regulation of the body’s temperature is assisted by the flow of blood among the different parts of the body. Heat is produced by the body’s tissues as they go through the processes of breaking down nutrients for energy, making new tissue, and giving up waste matter.

What is vascular disease?

Your Colorado Springs vein disease care requires a vast understanding of vascular disease. A vascular disease is a condition that affects the arteries and/or veins. Most often, vascular disease affects blood flow, either by blocking or weakening blood vessels, or by damaging the valves that are found in veins. Organs and other body structures may be damaged by vascular disease as a result of decreased or completely blocked blood flow.

What causes vascular disease?

Causes of vascular disease include:

  • Atherosclerosis – Atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque, which is a deposit of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin in the inner lining of an artery) is the most common cause of vascular disease.It is unknown exactly how atherosclerosis begins or what causes it. Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive, vascular disease that may start as early as childhood. However, the disease has the potential to progress rapidly. It is generally characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits along the innermost layer of the arteries. If the disease process progresses, plaque formation may take place. This thickening narrows the arteries and can decrease blood flow or completely block the flow of blood to organs and other body tissues and structures.
  • Embolus/thrombus – A blood vessel may be blocked by an embolus (a tiny mass of debris that moves through the bloodstream) or a thrombus (a blood clot).
  • Inflammation – In general, inflammation of blood vessels is referred to as vasculitis, which includes a range of disorders. Inflammation may lead to narrowing and/or blockage of blood vessels.
  • Trauma/injury – Trauma or injury involving the blood vessels may lead to inflammation or infection, which can damage the blood vessels and lead to narrowing and/or blockage.

What are the effects of vascular disease?

Because the functions of the blood vessels include supplying all organs and tissues of the body with oxygen and nutrients, removal of waste products, fluid balance, and other functions, conditions that affect the vascular system may affect the part(s) of the body supplied by a particular vascular network, such as the coronary arteries of the heart. Examples of the effects of vascular disease include:

  • Coronary vascular (artery) disease – Heart attack, angina (chest pain)
  • Cerebrovascular disease-stroke, transient ischemic attack (a sudden or a temporary loss of blood flow to an area of the brain, usually lasting less than five minutes but not longer than 24 hours, with complete recovery)
  • Peripheral arterial disease – Claudication (limping because of pain in the thigh, calf, and/or buttocks that occurs when walking), critical limb ischemia (lack of oxygen to the limb/leg at rest)
  • Vascular disease of the great vessels – Aortic aneurysm (a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning), coarctation of the aorta (narrowing of the aorta, the largest artery in the body), Takayasu’s arteritis (a rare inflammatory disease affecting the aorta and its branches)
  • Thoracic vascular disease – Thoracic aortic aneurysm (a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning in the thoracic, or chest, portion of the aorta)
  • Abdominal vascular disease – Abdominal aortic aneurysm (a bulging, weakened area in the wall of a blood vessel resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning in the abdominal portion of the aorta)
  • Peripheral venous disease – Deep vein thrombosis (Also called DVT; a blood clot in a deep vein located within the muscles of the leg), varicose veins
  • Lymphatic vascular diseases – Lymphedema (swelling caused by interruption of the normal drainage pattern in the lymph nodes)
  • Vascular diseases of the lungs – Wegener’s granulomatosis (an uncommon disease in which the blood vessels are inflamed; mainly affects the respiratory tract and the kidneys), angiitis (inflammation of blood vessels), hypertensive pulmonary vascular disease (high blood pressure in the lungs’ blood circulation due to vascular conditions)
  • Renal (kidney) vascular diseases – Renal artery stenosis (blockage of a renal artery), fibromuscular dysplasia (a condition that weakens the walls of medium-sized arteries and occurs predominantly in young women of childbearing age)
  • Genitourinary vascular diseases – Vascular erectile dysfunction (impotence)

Because vascular conditions and diseases may involve more than one of the body’s systems at a time, many types of physicians treat vascular problems. Specialists in vascular medicine and/or surgery work closely with physicians in other specialties, such as internal medicine, interventional radiology, cardiology, and others to ensure comprehensive care of patients with vascular conditions.

Learn your options for vein disease treatments in Colorado Springs

Schedule a consultation for your vein disease treatment with a board-certified vein doctor at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center by calling 719-364-8346.

Understanding Varicose Veins and Spider Veins

Understanding Varicose Veins and Spider Veins

Get complete and highly-specialized varicose veins treatment from top, board-certified vascular surgeons.

Here’s what you should know about Colorado Springs varicose veins and spider veins care at University of Colorado Health Vein Center:

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that are visible through the skin and may appear as blue or purple twisted, knot-like cords. Varicose veins can occur anywhere in the body, but are more commonly found on the legs. Hemorrhoids, a type of varicose vein, can appear during pregnancy around the anus or in the vagina.

What are spider veins?

Spider veins, a milder type of varicose veins, are smaller than varicose veins and often look like a sunburst or ‘spider web.’ They are red or blue in color and are commonly found on the face and legs, just under the surface of the skin.

What causes varicose veins?

Varicose veins are caused by increased blood pressure inside the superficial leg veins. Two main types of veins are present in the legs. Superficial veins are near the surface of the skin, whereas deep veins are located in the muscle tissue. Varicose veins occur in the superficial veins in the legs. In contrast, deep veins lead to the vena cava, a large vein that transports blood to the heart.

The blood in the veins of the legs works against gravity in order to return upwards to the heart. The blood is moved up towards the heart by one-way valves in the veins. When the leg muscles contract and squeeze the deep veins, the valves inside the veins open. When the leg muscles relax, the valves close, preventing blood from flowing backward.

When the one-way valves become weakened or damaged, blood can collect in the veins, causing the veins to become enlarged. Sitting or standing for long periods can cause blood to pool in the leg veins, increasing the pressure within the veins. In persons who are prone to varicose veins, the veins can stretch as a result of increased pressure. This stretching of the veins may weaken the walls of the veins and damage the valves. Thick varicose veins or spider veins may result.

Other factors that may lead to weakened vein valves and the development of varicose veins include obesity, aging, leg injury, pregnancy, smoking, hormones, and heredity (being born with weak vein valves). While varicose veins are not considered a severe medical condition, they can be uncomfortable and can lead to more serious problems such as phlebitis (inflammation in the leg) or blood clot. Varicose veins can also be a cosmetic concern to some people.

Varicose veins, because they occur in superficial veins, are not generally linked to a serious condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). However, with severe varicose veins, there is a small increased chance of developing DVT. DVT requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of DVT include sudden, severe leg swelling and can result in blood clots that travel to the brain or the heart.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

The following are the most common symptoms of varicose veins. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Color changes in the skin
  • Sores on the legs
  • Rash
  • Sensations in the legs, such as a heavy feeling, burning, and/or aching

Severe varicose veins may eventually produce long-term mild swelling that can result in more serious skin and tissue problems, such as ulcers and nonhealing sores.

The symptoms of varicose veins may resemble other medical conditions or problems.

VIDEO: Varicose Veins

In this video, Dr. Scott Hurlbert explains varicose veins and the associated treatments and likely outcomes:

What are the risk factors for varicose veins?

About 15 percent of adults in the US have varicose veins. The risk of varicose veins is strongly related to age and gender. The following are suggested risk factors for varicose veins:

  • Obesity – A major risk factor for varicose veins. Excessive weight increases the pressure on the veins of the legs and aggravates the condition.
  • Family history – Heredity is important in determining susceptibility to varicose veins, but the specific factors responsible for this have not been identified.
  • Inactivity – Prolonged standing or sitting increases pressure in the veins.
  • Gender – Women are particularly susceptible to varicose veins because of the influence of progesterone on the veins and the effects of pregnancy. Women are 2-3 times more likely to have varicose veins.
  • Pregnancy – Pregnant women have an increased risk of developing varicose veins due to the hormonal influences of pregnancy on the veins, but the veins often return to normal within one year of childbirth. Women who have multiple pregnancies may develop permanent varicose veins.
  • Age – Varicose veins usually affect people between the ages of 30 and 70. With advancing age, the elastic shell of the vein begins to weaken increasing the chance that the vein will dilate.

A risk factor is anything that may increase a person’s chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases have different risk factors.

Although these risk factors increase a person’s risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors. But, knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.

How are varicose veins diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for varicose veins may include any, or a combination, of the following:

  • Duplex ultrasound – A type of vascular ultrasound procedure done to assess blood flow and the structure of the leg veins. The term “duplex” refers to the fact that two modes of ultrasound are used – Doppler and B-mode. The B-mode transducer (like a microphone) obtains an image of the vessel being studied. The Doppler probe within the transducer evaluates the velocity and direction of blood flow in the vessel.
  • Color-flow imaging (Also called triplex ultrasound) – A procedure similar to duplex ultrasound that uses color to highlight the direction of blood flow. Vessels in which blood is flowing are colored red for flow in one direction and blue for flow in the other, with a color scale that reflects the speed of the flow.
  • Magnetic resonance venography (MRV) – A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of a large magnet, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. An MRV uses magnetic resonance technology and intravenous (IV) contrast dye to visualize the veins. Contrast dye causes the blood vessels to appear opaque on the x-ray image, allowing the physician to visualize the blood vessels being evaluated. MRV is useful in some cases because it can help detect causes of leg pain other than vein problems.

Treatment for varicose veins:

Specific treatment for varicose veins will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your signs and symptoms
  • Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

Medical treatment may not be necessary if there are no symptoms. However, varicose veins may sometimes worsen without treatment. Treatment for varicose veins involves both surgical and nonsurgical approaches.

Nonsurgical methods for treating varicose veins include:

  • Elevation of the legs – You may be instructed to elevate your feet above the level of your heart three or four times a day for about 15 minutes at a time. If you need to sit or stand for a long period of time, flexing (bending) your legs occasionally can help keep blood circulating. If you have mild to moderate varicose veins, elevating your legs can help reduce leg swelling and relieve other symptoms.
  • Compression stockings – These elastic stockings squeeze or compress the veins and prevent blood from flowing backward. In addition, compression stockings may help with healing of skin sores and prevention of additional sores. Compression stockings are effective in treating varicose veins if worn daily and may prevent the need for more invasive treatment.
  • Sclerotherapy – The most common treatment for both spider and varicose veins. This procedure involves a saline or chemical solution that is injected into the varicose veins that causes them to harden so that they no longer fill with blood. Blood that would normally return to the heart through these veins returns to the heart by way of other veins. The veins that received the injection will eventually shrivel and disappear. The scar tissue is absorbed by the body.
  • Laser treatment – A type of treatment for varicose veins. Until recently, laser treatment was mainly used for treatment of spider veins on the face. However, newer laser technology can now effectively treat varicose veins as well. There are several types of lasers that may be used to treat varicose veins. The physician inserts a tiny fiber into a varicose vein through a catheter. The fiber sends out laser energy that destroys the diseased portion of your varicose vein. The vein closes and your body eventually absorbs it.
  • Ablation – Involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube called a catheter inserted into a varicose vein. The tip of the catheter heats the walls of the varicose vein and destroys the vein tissue. Once destroyed, the vein is no longer able to carry blood and is absorbed by your body.

Surgical approaches to the treatment of varicose veins include:

  • Vein stripping – This procedure involves tying off all varicose veins associated with the leg’s main superficial vein and removing it from the leg. The removal of veins from the leg will not affect the blood circulation in the leg as deeper veins will be able to take care of the increased blood circulation.
  • Small incision avulsion – This procedure involves passing hooks through small incisions, and may be done alone or together with vein stripping.
  • Transilluminated powered phlebotomy – This vein removal procedure makes use of a bright light to illuminate the vein. A device is passed through a tiny incision and removes the vein with suction.

Preventing varicose veins:

Steps to prevent varicose veins include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and elevating the feet while sitting. Avoid clothing that constricts your waist, groin, or legs, shoes with high heels, and crossing the legs while sitting. While these measures may help prevent varicose veins in some people, they may only slow the onset of the condition in individuals who are susceptible.

Schedule A Consultation

Schedule a consultation to discuss your Colorado Springs varicose veins treatment at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center. Please call: 719-364-8346

Leg Pain and Leg Swelling

Leg Pain and Leg Swelling

Insist on getting the highest level of leg pain and leg swelling care in Colorado Springs.

Here’s what you should know about getting highly-specialized Colorado Springs leg pain and leg swelling care from board-certified vascular surgeons at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center:

Leg swelling occurs as the varicose vein and the vein valves become more abnormal. The poorly functioning valves allow blood to flow backward, which causes pooling in the veins. Symptoms can include:

  • Aching
  • Cramping
  • Tired legs
  • Swelling
  • Heaviness
  • Restless legs
  • Itching

The pooling causes increased pressure inside the veins. This increased pressure causes the veins to distend and become ‘leaky,’ allowing fluid inside the veins to leak outside the vein into surrounding tissue causing swelling. The swelling can cause the legs to ache and feel heavy. Leg pain is caused not only from the effects of swelling, but also from the effects of congestion or pooling in the muscles. The discomfort of both leg swelling and leg pain can be improved with compression stockings or possibly treated with endovenous laser ablation.

Fortunately, you can get relief from such symptoms with the proper Colorado Springs leg pain and leg swelling care.
How to get help for leg pain and leg swelling in Colorado Springs

Get relief from leg pain and leg swelling. Call 719-364-8346 to talk to a board-certified vein doctor at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Get the most advanced abdominal aortic aneurysm care in Colorado Springs at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center. Here’s what you should know about getting highly-specialized Colorado Springs abdominal aortic aneurysm treatments from board-certified vascular surgeons at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center:

An abdominal aortic aneurysm, also called AAA or triple A, is a bulging, weakened area in the wall of the aorta (the largest artery in the body) resulting in an abnormal widening or ballooning greater than 50 percent of the normal diameter (width).

The aorta extends upward from the top of the left ventricle of the heart in the chest area (ascending thoracic aorta), then curves like a candy cane (aortic arch) downward through the chest area (descending thoracic aorta) into the abdomen (abdominal aorta). The aorta delivers oxygenated blood pumped from the heart to the rest of the body.

The most common location of arterial aneurysm formation is the abdominal aorta, specifically, the segment of the abdominal aorta below the kidneys. An abdominal aneurysm located below the kidneys is called an infrarenal aneurysm. An aneurysm can be characterized by its location, shape, and cause.

The shape of an aneurysm is described as being fusiform or saccular which helps to identify a true aneurysm. The more common fusiform shaped aneurysm bulges or balloons out on all sides of the aorta. A saccular shaped aneurysm bulges or balloons out only on one side.

A pseudoaneurysm, or false aneurysm, is not an enlargement of any of the layers of the blood vessel wall. A false aneurysm may be the result of a prior surgery or trauma. Sometimes, a tear can occur on the inside layer of the vessel resulting in blood filling in between the layers of the blood vessel wall creating a dissection.

The aorta is under constant pressure as blood is ejected from the heart. With each heart beat, the walls of the aorta distend (expand) and then recoil (spring back), exerting continual pressure or stress on the already weakened aneurysm wall. Therefore, there is a potential for rupture (bursting) or dissection (separation of the layers of the aortic wall) of the aorta, which may cause life-threatening hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding) and, potentially, death. The larger the aneurysm becomes, the greater the risk of rupture.

Because an aneurysm may continue to increase in size, along with progressive weakening of the artery wall, surgical intervention may be needed. Preventing rupture of an aneurysm is one of the goals of therapy.

What causes an abdominal aortic aneurysm to form?

An abdominal aortic aneurysm may be caused by multiple factors that result in the breaking down of the well-organized structural components (proteins) of the aortic wall that provide support and stabilize the wall. The exact cause is not fully known.

Atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque, which is a deposit of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin in the inner lining of an artery) is thought to play an important role in aneurysmal disease, including the risk factors associated with atherosclerosis, such as:

  • Age (greater than 60)
  • Male (occurrence in males is four to five times greater than that of females)
  • Family history (first degree relatives such as father or brother)
  • Genetic factors
  • Hyperlipidemia (elevated fats in the blood)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes

Other diseases that may cause an abdominal aneurysm include:

  • Genetic disorders of connective tissue (abnormalities that can affect tissues such as bones, cartilage, heart, and blood vessels), such as Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Turner’s syndrome, and polycystic kidney disease
  • Congenital (present at birth) syndromes, such as bicuspid aortic valve or coarctation of the aorta
  • Giant cell arteritis – a disease that causes inflammation of the temporal arteries and other arteries in the head and neck, causing the arteries to narrow, reducing blood flow in the affected areas; may cause persistent headaches and vision loss
  • Trauma
  • Infectious aortitis (infections of the aorta) due to infections such as syphilis, salmonella, or staphylococcus. These infectious conditions are rare.

What are the symptoms of abdominal aortic aneurysms?

Abdominal aortic aneurysms may be asymptomatic (without symptoms) or symptomatic (with symptoms).

About three of every four abdominal aortic aneurysms are asymptomatic. An aneurysm may also be discovered by x-ray, computed tomography scan (CT scan), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that is being done for other conditions. Since abdominal aneurysm may be present without symptoms, it is referred to as the “silent killer” because it may rupture before being diagnosed.

Pain is the most common symptom of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The pain associated with an abdominal aortic aneurysm may be located in the abdomen, chest, lower back, or groin area. The pain may be severe or dull. The occurrence of pain is often associated with the imminent (about to happen) rupture of the aneurysm.

Acute, sudden onset of severe pain in the back and/or abdomen may represent rupture and is a life threatening medical emergency.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms may also cause a pulsing sensation, similar to a heartbeat, in the abdomen.

The symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm may resemble other medical conditions or problems.

How are aneurysms diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for an aneurysm may include any, or a combination, of the following:

  • Computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) – A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • Ultrasound – Uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels.
  • Arteriogram (angiogram) – An x-ray image of the blood vessels used to evaluate various conditions, such as aneurysm, stenosis (narrowing of the blood vessel), or blockages. A dye (contrast) will be injected through a thin flexible tube placed in an artery. This dye makes the blood vessels visible on x-ray.

Treatment for abdominal aortic aneurysms:

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your signs and symptoms
  • Your tolerance of specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Routine ultrasound procedures – to monitor the size and rate of growth of the aneurysm
  • Controlling or modifying risk factors – steps such as quitting smoking, controlling blood sugar if diabetic, losing weight if overweight or obese, and controlling dietary fat intake may help to control the progression of the aneurysm
  • Medication – to control factors such as hyperlipidemia (elevated levels of fats in the blood) and/or high blood pressure
  • Surgery
    • Abdominal aortic aneurysm open repair – A large incision is made in the abdomen to directly visualize the abdominal aorta and repair the aneurysm. A cylinder-like tube called a graft may be used to repair the aneurysm. Grafts are made of various materials such as Dacron (textile polyester synthetic graft) or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, non-textile synthetic graft). This graft is sewn to the aorta, connecting one end of the aorta at the site of the aneurysm to the other end. The open repair is considered the surgical standard for an abdominal aortic aneurysm repair.
    • Endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR) – EVAR is a procedure that requires only small incisions in the groin along with the use of x-ray guidance and specially-designed instruments to repair the aneurysm. With the use of special endovascular instruments and x-ray images for guidance, a stent-graft is inserted via the femoral artery and advanced up into the aorta to the site of the aneurysm. A stent-graft is a long cylinder-like tube made of thin metal mesh framework (stent), while the graft is made of various materials such as Dacron or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). The graft material may cover the stent. The stent helps to hold the graft open and in place.

A small aneurysm or one that does not cause symptoms may not require surgical treatment until it reaches a certain size or is rapidly increasing in size over a short period of time. Your doctor may recommend “watchful waiting.” This may include an ultrasound, duplex scan, or CT scan every 6 months to closely monitor the aneurysm, and blood pressure medication may be used to control high blood pressure.

If the aneurysm is causing symptoms or is large, surgery may be recommended by your doctor.

What is aortic dissection?

An aortic dissection, although uncommon, begins with a tear in the inner layer of the aortic wall. The aortic wall is made up of three layers of tissue. When a tear occurs in the innermost layer of the aortic wall, blood is then channeled into the wall of the aorta, separating the layers of tissues. This generates a weakening in the aortic wall with a potential for rupture. Aortic dissection can be a life-threatening emergency.

What causes aortic dissection?

The cause of aortic dissection is still under investigation. However, several risk factors associated with aortic dissection include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Connective tissue disorders, such as Marfan’s disease, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and Turner’s syndrome
  • Cystic medial disease (a degenerative disease of the aortic wall)
  • Aortitis (inflammation of the aorta)
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Existing thoracic aneurysm
  • Bicuspid aortic valve (presence of only two cusps, or leaflets, in the aortic valve, rather than the normal three cusps)
  • Trauma
  • Coarctation of the aorta (narrowing of the aorta)
  • Hypervolemia (excess fluid or volume in the circulation)
  • Polycystic kidney disease (a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous cysts filled with fluid in the kidneys)

What are the symptoms of aortic dissection?

The most commonly reported symptom of an acute aortic dissection is severe, constant pain, sometimes described as “ripping tearing” and located in the chest, the middle of the abdomen, the lower back, or the pelvis area. The pain may be “migratory”, moving from one place to another, according to the direction and extent of the dissection.

The symptoms of aortic dissection may resemble other medical conditions or problems.

How is aortic dissection diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for an aortic dissection may include any, or a combination, of the following:

  • Computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) – A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) – A diagnostic procedure that uses echocardiography to assess the heart function and structures. A transesophageal echocardiogram is performed by inserting a probe with a transducer down the esophagus. By inserting the transducer in the esophagus, TEE provides a clearer image of the heart because the sound waves do not have to pass through skin, muscle, or bone tissue.

The physician will determine the most appropriate examination. When a diagnosis of aortic dissection is confirmed, immediate intervention is necessary. Medical intervention or surgery will be required depending on the location of the aortic dissection.

VIDEO: Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Repair by Dr. Carlson

In this video, Dr. Carlson explains aortic aneurysm repair and the associated risks and likely outcomes:

VIDEO: Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Repair by Dr. Corry

In this video, Dr. Corry explains aortic aneurysm repair and the associated risks and likely outcomes:

Schedule a Consultation

For your Colorado Springs abdominal aortic aneurysm care, schedule a consultation with a board-certified vascular surgeon at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center today. To schedule a consultation, call 719-364-8346.

Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid Artery Disease

Get the highest level of carotid artery disease care in Colorado Springs from board-certified vascular surgeons at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center. Here’s what you should know about getting highly-specialized Colorado Springs carotid artery disease care from board-certified vascular surgeons at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center:

Carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis, occurs when the carotid arteries, the main blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to the brain, become narrowed. The narrowing of the carotid arteries is most commonly related to atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque, which is a deposit of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin in the inner lining of an artery). Atherosclerosis, or ‘hardening of the arteries,’ is a vascular disease (disease of the arteries and veins). Carotid artery disease is similar to coronary artery disease, in which blockages occur in the arteries of the heart, and may cause a heart attack.

To better understand how carotid artery disease affects the brain, a basic review of the anatomy of the circulation system of the brain follows.

What are the carotid arteries?

The main supply of blood to the brain is carried by the carotid arteries. The carotid arteries branch off from the aorta (the largest artery in the body) a short distance from the heart, and extend upward through the neck carrying oxygen-rich blood to the brain.

There are four carotid arteries: the right and left internal carotid arteries and the right and left external carotid arteries. One pair (external and internal) is located on each side of the neck. Just as a pulse can be felt in the wrists, a pulse can also be felt on either side of the neck over the carotid arteries.

Why are the carotid arteries important?

Because the carotid arteries deliver blood to the brain, carotid artery disease can have serious implications by reducing the flow of oxygen to the brain. The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen in order to function. Even a brief interruption in blood supply can cause problems. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen. If the narrowing of the carotid arteries becomes severe enough to block blood flow, or a piece of atherosclerotic plaque breaks off and obstructs blood flow to the brain, a stroke may occur.

What causes carotid artery disease?

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of carotid artery disease. It is unknown exactly how atherosclerosis begins or what causes it. Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive, vascular disease that may start as early as childhood. However, the disease has the potential to progress rapidly. It is generally characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits along the innermost layer of the arteries. If the disease process progresses, plaque formation may take place. Plaque is made up of deposits of smooth muscle cells, fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium, and cellular waste products. This thickening narrows the arteries and can decrease blood flow or completely block the flow of blood to the brain.

Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include:

  • Older age
  • Male
  • Family history
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Genetic factors
  • Hyperlipidemia (elevated fats in the blood)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Diet high in saturated fat
  • Lack of exercise

A risk factor is anything that may increase a person’s chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases have different risk factors.

Although these risk factors increase a person’s risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors. Knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.

What are the symptoms of carotid artery disease?

Carotid artery disease may be asymptomatic (without symptoms) or symptomatic (with symptoms). Asymptomatic carotid disease is the presence of a significant amount of atherosclerotic build-up without obstructing enough blood flow to cause symptoms. However, a sufficiently tight stenosis will not always cause symptoms. Symptomatic carotid artery disease may result in either a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and/or a stroke (brain attack).

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a sudden or a temporary loss of blood flow to an area of the brain, usually lasting a few minutes to one hour. Symptoms usually go away entirely within 24 hours, with complete recovery. Symptoms of a TIA may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Sudden weakness or clumsiness of an arm and/or leg on one side of the body
  • Sudden paralysis (inability to move) of an arm and/or leg on one side of the body
  • Loss of coordination or movement
  • Confusion, dizziness, fainting, and/or headache
  • Numbness or loss of sensation (feeling) in the face
  • Numbness or loss of sensation in an arm and/or leg
  • Temporary loss of vision or blurred vision
  • Inability to speak clearly or slurred speech

TIA may be related to severe narrowing or blockage or from small pieces of an atherosclerotic plaque breaking off, traveling through the bloodstream, and lodging in small blood vessels in the brain. With TIA, there is rarely permanent brain damage.

Call for medical help immediately if you suspect a person is having a TIA, as it may be a warning sign that a stroke is about to occur. Not all strokes, however, are preceded by TIAs.

Stroke is another indicator of carotid artery disease. The symptoms of a stroke are the same as for a TIA. A stroke is loss of blood flow (ischemia) to the brain that continues long enough to cause permanent brain damage. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without oxygen. The area of dead cells in tissues is called an infarct.

The area of the brain that suffered the loss of blood flow will determine what the physical or mental disability may be. This may include impaired ability with movement, speech, thinking and memory, bowel and bladder function, eating, emotional control, and other vital body functions. Recovery from the specific ability affected depends on the size and location of the stroke. A stroke may result in problems such as weakness in an arm or leg or may cause paralysis, loss of speech, or even death.

The symptoms of carotid artery disease may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is carotid artery disease diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for carotid artery disease may include any, or a combination, of the following:

  • Auscultation (listening to) of carotid arteries – Placement of a stethoscope over the carotid artery to listen for a particular sound called a bruit (pronounced brew-ee). A bruit is an abnormal sound that is produced by blood passing through a narrowed artery. A bruit is generally considered a sign of an atherosclerotic artery; however, an artery may be diseased without producing this sound.
  • Carotid artery duplex scan – A type of vascular ultrasound study performed to assess the blood flow of the carotid arteries. A carotid artery duplex scan is a noninvasive (the skin is not pierced) procedure. A transducer sends out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. When the transducer (like a microphone) is placed on the carotid arteries at certain locations and angles, the ultrasonic sound waves move through the skin and other body tissues to the blood vessels, where the waves echo off of the blood cells. The transducer picks up the reflected waves and sends them to an amplifier, which makes the ultrasonic sound waves audible. Absence or faintness of these sounds may indicate an obstruction to the blood flow.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) – A noninvasive diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of magnetic resonance technology (MRI) and intravenous (IV) contrast dye to visualize blood vessels. Contrast dye causes blood vessels to appear opaque on the MRI image, allowing the physician to visualize the blood vessels being evaluated.
  • Computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) – A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • Angiography – An invasive procedure used to assess the degree of blockage or narrowing of the carotid arteries by taking x-ray images while a contrast dye in injected. The contrast dye helps to visualize the shape and flow of blood through the arteries as x-ray images are made.

Treatment for carotid artery disease:

Specific treatment for carotid artery disease will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • Your signs and symptoms
  • Your tolerance of specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Carotid artery disease (asymptomatic or symptomatic) in which the narrowing of the carotid artery is less than 50 percent is most often treated medically. Asymptomatic disease with less than 70 percent narrowing may also be treated medically, depending on the individual situation.

Medical treatment for carotid artery disease may include:

  • Modification of risk factors – Risk factors that may be modified include smoking, elevated cholesterol levels, elevated blood glucose levels, lack of exercise, poor dietary habits, and elevated blood pressure.
  • Medications – Medications that may be used to treat carotid artery disease include:
    • Antiplatelet medications – Medications used to decrease the ability of platelets in the blood to stick together and cause clots. Aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix®), and dipyridamole (Persantine®) are examples of antiplatelet medications.
    • Anticoagulants – Also described as “blood thinners,” these medications work differently than antiplatelet medications to decrease the ability of the blood to clot. An example of an anticoagulant is warfarin (Coumadin®).
    • Antihyperlipidemics – Medications used to lower lipids (fats) in the blood, particularly cholesterol. Statins are a group of antihyperlipidemic medications, and include simvastatin (Zocor®), atorvastatin (Lipitor®), and pravastatin (Pravachol®), among others. Studies have shown that certain statins can decrease the thickness of the carotid artery wall and increase the size of the lumen (opening) of the artery.
    • Antihypertensives – Medications used to lower blood pressure. There are several different groups of medications which act in different ways to lower blood pressure.

In persons with narrowing of the carotid artery greater than 50 percent to 69 percent, a more aggressive treatment may be recommended, particularly in persons with symptoms. Surgical treatment decreases the risk for stroke after symptoms such as TIA or minor stroke, especially in persons with an occlusion (blockage) of more than 70 percent who are good candidates for surgery.

Surgical treatment of carotid artery disease includes:

  • Carotid endarterectomy (CEA) – Carotid endarterectomy is a procedure used to remove plaque and clots from the carotid arteries, located in the neck. Endarterectomy may help prevent a stroke from occurring in persons with symptoms with a carotid artery narrowing of 70 percent or more.
  • Carotid artery angioplasty with stenting (CAS) – Carotid angioplasty with stenting is an option for patients who are high risk for carotid endarterectomy. This is a minimally invasive procedure in which a very small hollow tube, or catheter, is advanced from a blood vessel in the groin to the carotid arteries. Once the catheter is in place, a balloon may be inflated to open the artery and a stent is placed. A stent is a cylinder-like tube made of thin metal-mesh framework used to hold the artery open. Because there is a risk of stroke from bits of plaque breaking off during the procedure, an apparatus, called an embolic protection device, may be used. An embolic protection device is a filter (like a small basket) that is attached on a guidewire to catch any debris that may break off during the procedure.

VIDEO: Carotid Artery Disease Surgery

In this video, Dr. Hurlbert explains carotid surgery and the associated risks and likely outcomes:

VIDEO: Carotid Endarterectomy

In this video, Dr. Corry explains carotid endarterectomy and the associated risks and likely outcomes:

Schedule A Consultation

To schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified vascular surgeons about treatment for carotid artery disease at the University of Colorado Health Vein Center, please call 719-364-8346.