Simple tests can reveal vascular problems

Cheri Irmscher
Published: .
Updated: .

Anne Marie Tiernon/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - This month's Checkup 13 is focused on vascular system health. One local woman was surprised to discover she had a potentially life-threatening problem.

"I could live outside. I love the out of doors," said Cheri Irmscher, 61.

Irmscher of Carmel daily walks her dog Kazuri after yoga. For 2010, the active 61-year-old vowed to do even more.

"This is the year that I am going to work on prevention," she said.

That led Irmscher to pick up a coupon for a senior fair where she got a vascular screening.

"I did not think that I was going to find a problem at all. In fact, I was going out of town that day and I thought - I told my husband I'll be home in 20 minutes. I'm just going to go have this test done. And I called him an hour later and said you're not going to believe this," she said.

The ultra sound test detected a problem with her carotid artery, part of her vascular system which transports blood from the heart from head to toe.

"The carotid arteries are these red stripes coming up on each side of the neck," said Dr. Sajjad Hussain, CORVASC at St. Vincent Hospital. "The blood from the heart is being pumped very fast up through to the brain on each side."

"When they told me that it was my carotid artery, that it was significantly blocked, they could have knocked me over with a feather," said Irmscher.

"If there is a lot of blockage it is exactly that, a ticking time bomb," said Dr. Hussain.

Cheri Irmscher had no symptoms but was at great risk of stroke.

"This is a reconstruction of the blood flow inside the carotid artery. Here it is quite normal but as you can see here it's almost filled up with this cholesterol plaque which is the dark area and there is a 80 percent narrowing just a 20 percent flow going through here," said Dr. Hussain, explaining Irmscher's problem.

Her surgeon removed the plaque through an incision in her neck.

Now Cheri Irmscher is active again and certain being proactive paid off.

Vascular disease

As the heart beats, it pumps blood through a system of blood vessels, called the circulatory system.  The vessels are elastic tubes that carry blood to every part of the body

  • Arteries carry blood away from the heart.
  • Veins return blood back to the heart.

Vascular Disease includes any condition that affects the circulatory system.  This ranges from diseases of the arteries, veins and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation.

  • Vascular disease may be undiagnosed and untreated, despite the risks of serious complications like stroke, death or the loss of limbs.
  • Our population is aging and the rate of vascular disease has risen significantly, but diagnosis and treatment of vascular disease have not kept pace with heart disease.

Vascular disease, like heart disease, MUST become a national health care priority to reduce death and disability due to vascular disease. 

Who should be screened?

People over the age of 55 have a higher risk of vascular disease.  There are other conditions that are associated with a higher risk including:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Blood Cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Family History of Vascular Disease

Carotid Artery Disease

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the US and the #1 cause of disability in older populations.  More than half of all strokes in older Americans are due to carotid artery disease and there are proven treatments to reduce strokes in those cases.

Carotid Artery Screening

Carotid Artery Disease can be diagnosed easily and accurately using an ultrasound scan to image the artery.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

This is the 10th leading cause of death in men over 50 (in the US); however, most people never know they have an aneurysm.  AAA can be permanently cured when it is diagnosed early, but rupture is fatal in most cases. A painless risk-free ultrasound scan can diagnose an AAA and accurately measure its size to determine the need for treatment

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

This affects the health of millions of older Americans, at least a quarter of those over 70-years-old.  Many older people with PAD have difficulty walking, and some may suffer from foot ulcers or infections.  People with PAD have a much higher risk of stroke and heart attack, but these risks can be reduced if PAD is diagnosed early.

PAD Screen

A simple Doppler exam can accurately diagnose PAD.  When PAD is treated people are usually able to walk farther and have reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. 

For more information on Vascular Disease and St.Vincent Heart Center of Indiana, click here.