Leg Arteries And Leg Artery Problems
There are basically two sets of blood vessels in our legs, the leg arteries and the leg veins. The functional difference between the two is the leg arteries carry blood from the heart down into the legs, and to the feet and toes. The leg veins return blood to the heart. As far as the leg arteries are concerned, blood flowing into the legs through the leg arteries is accomplished by a combination of the pumping action of the heart and gravity. On the return trip the blood flow through the veins is going against gravity and must rely not only on the pumping action of the heart, but also must rely on the proper functioning of valves in the veins which resist any tendency of the blood to flow backwards and downwards.
The Leg Arteries - A major artery, the aorta comes down from the heart and splits into two arteries in the lower abdomen. Each these two arteries, called the iliac arteries, goes down into a leg, where each splits again. One of these new branch arteries is the internal iliac artery, carrying blood to the pelvis and buttocks. The other is the external iliac artery which goes into the groins where it is then referred to as the femoral artery.
The femoral artery (in each leg) divides into the profunda femoris, providing blood to the thigh area, and the superficial femoral artery which goes to the back of the knee. The superficial femoral artery becomes the popliteal artery at this point, branching into three more arteries which carry blood to the lower leg. The peroneal artery carries blood to the ankles, while the anterior and posterior tibial arteries carry blood to the front and to the back of the foot, respectively.
Leg Vein Problems - Problems can sometimes occur in either the leg arteries or the leg veins. In the case of the veins it is often do to a defective valve, which makes pumping of the blood back to the heart much more difficult, with one result being a tendency of blood to pool in the feet or ankles, usually evidenced by swelling.
Leg Artery Problems - As far as problems in the leg arteries are concerned, they most often are due to atherosclerosis, a hardening and thickening of the artery walls, which inhibits blood flow. This will cause a deficiency of oxygen, especially to the peripheries such as the feet and toes, but can also affect the leg as a whole. There may be no symptoms at first, but when symptoms do occur they are usually in the form of pain or soreness in the legs, ankles, or feet. Pain, and sometime cramping, most often occurs during walking, and is usually relieved by getting off of one's feet and resting. Atherosclerosis can occur in any artery in the body, but no matter where it occurs, it is always potentially dangerous, and in some cases life threatening.
Cause And Treatment - Atherosclerosis can occur for many reasons. In is most often present in elderly people, not so much because of age, though that may be a factor, but most often due to lifestyle, which means that treatment of atherosclerosis in early stages often consist primarily of lifestyle changes. Diabetes, smoking, and high cholesterol can also contribute to atherosclerosis. Lifestyle changes usually mean a program of exercise, weight reduction where needed, maintaining low blood pressure, and controlling and managing blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Medications, while not normally effective in curing diseases of the leg arteries, are often prescribed as a preventive measure, preventing atherosclerosis or keeping the condition from worsening.
When problems with the leg arteries are more severe, and changes in lifestyle are not sufficient, invasive procedures such as angioplasty or a reconstruction of a part of the circulatory system by bypass grafting may be in order.