September is Vascular Disease Awareness Month and this year the Circulation Foundation has launched ‘The Body Walk’ initiative as part of a national campaign to raise awareness of vascular disease. The Body Walk aims to collectively walk the 60,000 miles of the arterial system, raising £1 for every mile walked.

Vascular disease is a broad umbrella term for a large variety of conditions that affect the body’s network of blood vessels, including the arteries, veins and lymph vessels, often leading to ischemia or insufficient blood flow to the tissues and potentially life-threatening complications.

Some of the more common conditions include:

  • aneurysms (bulges in the wall of a blood vessel);
  • peripheral artery disease (narrow or blocked arteries, which lead to the risk of a heart attack or stroke);
  • blood clots or deep vein thrombosis;
  • lymphedema;
  • Raynaud’s disease;
  • varicose veins; and
  • vasculitis (an autoimmune disorder causing inflammation of the blood vessels).

Vascular disease accounts for 40% of deaths in the UK. A significant number of these deaths could be prevented with appropriate lifestyle changes including: following a healthy diet to lower cholesterol levels; taking regular exercise; not smoking; and managing stress, as well as appropriate medical treatment (such as medication to lower cholesterol and improve blood flow and angioplasty to widen blood vessels).

Many vascular diseases are not well understood and there is an urgent need for greater awareness and further research to develop treatments in this area. Some vascular problems may not be recognised or treated quickly enough by medical professionals, leading to very serious complications such as limb amputation or even death. Vasculitis can, for example, lead to bleeds in the brain, which can cause permanent brain damage if left untreated.

The standard of care, in the context of treatment of vascular disease, was considered in the case of Executors of the Estate of Raggett (deceased) v Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and others. The court found that three medical professionals had been negligent in failing to identify the cause of the claimant’s pain as vascular, leading to delayed treatment and eventually an above knee amputation. The court found that earlier recognition of the true cause would have saved the leg. The judge did not shy away from criticising the defendants for not seeking earlier expert vascular opinion.