What is Vascular Disease?

The Vascular System

The vascular system (also known as the cardiovascular system) is the interlinked network of blood vessels (veins and arteries) that connect to the heart and lungs and provide oxygen and nutrients to all the organs and tissues of the body.

The vascular system is part of all the vital systems in the body. That’s why diseases of the vascular system can have such an enormous impact on all areas of our health. In fact, many of the most devastating diseases, such as stroke, dementia, heart disease, and diabetes, can be directly linked to a common cause: damage to the vascular system.

Read about how the Vascular Network is researching the links between the vascular system and cognitive decline here.

Vascular risk factors and disease

Vascular diseases are a result of damage to the blood vessels throughout the entire body. This damage in blood vessels eventually leads to larger effects on the whole body, such as stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, kidney diseases, and certain lung and eye conditions.

Most vascular diseases (damage to the blood vessels) occur because of long term exposure to vascular risk factors, which slowly but surely help to destroy and damage the vascular system. The most common known vascular risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure (this stretches and stresses the blood vessels and can cause them to burst, leading to strokes and aneurysms)
  • Diabetes (this disease causes changes to the blood vessels such as making them harder and less responsive, which can worsen other risk factors already present)
  • High cholesterol (this can build up inside of the blood vessels causing high blood pressure and heart disease. Completely blocked vessels cause strokes, heart attacks, and tissue death in other organs)
  • Obesity (extra weight stresses blood vessels and can raise blood pressure. Fatty tissue buildup in the blood vessels leads to heart disease)

Read about how the Vascular Network is using known risk factors to learn more about the progression of vascular disease here.

Effects of Vascular Disease

Vascular diseases are the leading cause of preventable death and disability in Canada. Twenty-four million Canadians (almost one in two) have at least one risk factor for vascular disease, while 10 million people have three or more risk factors. In recent years the number of young people with risk factors for vascular disease has been growing and there is a trend towards “premature vascular aging” where damage to the blood vessels occurs even in childhood due to dietary and lifestyle influences.

The impact of diseases associated with vascular damage is staggering: over 3.7 million Canadians are affected, costing the healthcare system more than $30 billion per year. These numbers are projected to increase over the next 20 years as the population ages and the prevalence of risk factors increases. 

Read about how Vascular Network Investigators are studying the management of vascular disease risk factors in the Canadian population here.