Vascular Medicine Glossary

Many of the terms that are used when describing vascular diseases and conditions can be very confusing, especially for those seeing them or hearing them for the first time. We make every effort to explain your diagnosis and recommended treatment options as clearly and understandably as possible, but during your visits or while reading our website or doing research, you may come across new terminology. This glossary may help.

Terms are categorized by letter. Click on each letter to open or close a group of terms.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (also called Triple A or AAA)

The abdominal aorta, one of the largest arteries in the belly, allows blood to pass from the heart to the rest of the body. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a weakening in the wall of the artery which causes a bulge to develop. The primary risk from having an abdominal aneurysm is a rupture, which can lead to death from massive bleeding. This disease has been cited as the 13th leading cause of death in the U.S. Once an AAA ruptures, there is about a 30 to 50 percent chance that a patient will die before ever reaching a hospital: this means that early detection and quick repair are extremely important.

Ablation

The removal or medical destruction of biological tissue, usually used to close off blood flow through a particular vessel. Often involves using tightly focused laser or radio frequency waves to generate heat for the procedure (thermal ablation).

Ambulatory phlebectomy

An outpatient procedure that removes veins in the leg through small incisions.

Amputation

The surgical removal of a body part that has suffered from prolonged lack of oxygen, which has caused damage beyond repair.

Aneurysm

An aneurysm is an abnormal enlargement or bulging of a blood vessel and is the result of a segment of the vessel becoming weak and unable to withstand the pressure of the blood flowing through it. The bulge generally appears at the weakest part of the vessel, starting out small and growing as the pressure continues to build.

Angiogram

A test performed by a radiologist that involves placing a needle into a blood vessel - either an artery or a vein - and injecting a dye that is visible on x-ray images. This test can help screen for vascular issues that can be treated from inside the blood vessel using minimally invasive surgery, rather than having to undergo general surgery using anesthesia to fix the problem. For example, we can use a small incision to send a balloon and/or stent through the blood vessel to open up a narrow or blocked area. This is an outpatient procedure that usually takes about an hour to perform.

Angioplasty (or stenting)

A treatment for venous or arterial disease. This procedure opens a blockage or narrowing with a small balloon and/or by placing a permanent small metal tube - a stent - that holds the vessel open to allow blood flow.

Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI)

An exam that takes pressure measurements at the ankle and arm. The process is similar to taking your blood pressure. This exam helps identify if and where a blockage may exist.

Aortoiliac disease

The abdominal aorta, one of the largest arteries in the belly, allows blood to pass from the heart to the rest of the body. When the aorta reaches the pelvic region, it branches off toward each leg to become the left and right iliac arteries. If either of these arteries becomes narrowed or blocked, you will feel pain toward the buttocks and in the thigh region. The pain typically stops when at rest.

Arm artery disease

Each arm has a large blood vessel that starts at the shoulder and branches into smaller arteries down the length of the arm toward the hand. If there is a blockage, you may feel pain, numbness or cold fingertips.

Arteriovenous malformation (or AVM)

AVM is a congenital disorder of the veins and arteries that make up the vascular system.

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in the blood. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows your arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body. Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke or even death, and plays a significant role in peripheral vascular diseases.

Carotid artery disease

The carotid arteries are the major vessels that supply blood to the brain. There are two, which run along each side of the neck. When the arteries become narrowed, this is called carotid artery stenosis. The narrowing is due to plaque accumulating in the vessel, and this plaque may lead to a stroke.

Carotid endarterectomy

Surgical procedure that involves the removal of plaque in the carotid artery.

Carotid stenting

This is a procedure that implants a metal tube (stent) into a vessel to hold it open and allow blood to flow.

Catheter

A flexible, medical-grade plastic tube that is inserted into a blood vessel to deliver drugs, therapies and surgical devices to an affected area.

Central line

A long tube (catheter) that goes into a vein in your chest or arm and ends at your heart. Your central line will carry nutrients and medicine into your body. It can also be used to take blood when you need to have blood tests.

Chemotherapy

The use of strong drugs to treat cancer. You will often hear chemotherapy called “chemo,” but it’s the same treatment. Chemo was first used to treat cancer in the 1950s. It has helped many people live full lives. The chemo drugs your doctor or nurse gives you have been tested many times. Research shows they work to help kill cancer cells.

Claudication

Describes the symptoms of a blockage or narrowing of any artery in the leg. The associated sensations are pain, achiness, burning and tingling. Claudication pain generally stops when you are at rest.

Coronary arteries

These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle.

CT angiography

This is a CAT (computer-aided tomography) scan performed by injecting x-ray dye through a vein and taking multiple pictures to study the blood vessels. The process usually takes only a few minutes.

Deep vein thrombosis (or DVT)

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in the arms or legs. If untreated, the clot can break off and lead to a pulmonary embolus, a life-threatening condition. Symptoms of DVT include swelling of the affected arm or leg, pain or tenderness, and warmth in the area.

Diabetic problems

Discolored areas or nonhealing ulcers on the feet are common problems for diabetics. Damage to the blood vessels (as well as other organs) can be a result of too much glucose in the blood. Nerve damage and poor blood flow (a peripheral vascular disease) afflict many diabetics.

Dialysis access

Hemodialysis - or dialysis - is the process of removing waste products from the blood that the kidneys are no longer capable of removing. The process requires taking blood out of the body, filtering it and returning it. We specialize in simplifying long-term access to the veins and arteries for this on-going procedure, either by installing an artificial port and catheter on an extremity, or by creating a fistula, a tough, surgical connection between a vein and artery near the skin’s surface. These procedures allow regular, long-term and generally painless access to a vein, making the process far easier on patients.

Duplex ultrasound

An ultrasound test that allows us to see and measure the size of blood vessels, the speed of the blood flowing through them, and any blockages that may be present, all in real time and full motion.

Embolization

Embolization is a nonsurgical, minimally invasive procedure used to introduce a medical device or agents to purposefully reduce or stop blood flow to a specific part of the body or a tumor.

Endarterectomy

A surgical procedure that removes plaque from inside a blood vessel.

Fistula (maintenance)

A fistula is a surgically created connection between an artery and a vein. Generally used to simplify regular access to a vein for regular hemodialysis, fistulas need to be monitored, as they can develop blood clots, collapse or cause other detrimental effects that need to be addressed.

Hemodialysis

Hemodialysis - or dialysis - is the most common method used to treat advanced and permanent kidney failure, involving the removal of blood from the body, artificially cleansing it and returning it.

Hickman catheter

A type of tunneled (imbedded) venous catheter, providing long-term IV access to administer chemotherapy drugs or other medications over an extended period.

Interventional radiologist

According to the Society of Interventional Radiology, interventional radiologists are "doctors who specialize in minimally invasive, targeted treatments performed using imaging guidance. They use their expertise in reading x-rays, ultrasound, MRI and other diagnostic imaging, to guide tiny instruments, such as catheters, through blood vessels or through the skin to treat diseases without surgery."

IVC filter

An IVC (inferior vena cava) filter is a device that is implanted for patients at high risk for developing blood clots that could cause pulmonary emboli - blood clots in the lungs. The filter is usually placed in the lowest renal vein near the kidneys, accessed through the femoral vein in the groin.

Lymphedema

The lymphatic system is an important part of the immune system. Lymphedema is a blockage of a lymph vessel, usually occurring in an arm or leg, that prevents fluid from draining properly and causes a back up of fluids. The result is swelling in the affecting area, pain, aching, skin breakdown, oozing or weeping of the skin. There is no definitive cure as yet, but we can control the problem and treat the symptoms.

Magnetic resonance angiogram

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan that provides a picture of the anatomy of blood vessels for evaluation and diagnosis. This imaging procedure shows whether a narrowing or blockage is present.

Mesenteric ischemia

The mesenteric arteries supply blood to the small and large intestines (bowels). Ischemia occurs when blood cannot reach these organs to deliver oxygen. This condition may be chronic or acute.

Pelvic congestion syndrome

A condition generally found in women in which varicose veins in the lower abdomen cause chronic pain.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

The most common and potentially serious type of peripheral vascular disease, PAD is an accumulation of plaque in the arties of the arms or legs that may cause an obstruction that can lead to stenosis (hardening), which can make the vessel narrow and restrict blood flow, or to thrombus (blood clot formation. Blood clots can restrict or prevent blood flow or break off and move to other areas of the body, including the heart, lungs or brain.

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD)

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a disease of the blood vessels in your arms, legs, hands and feet. Among conditions associated with PVD are deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, chronic venous insufficiency and lymphedema and peripheral arterial disease. Most of these conditions are caused by the buildup of plaque in the veins over time, which can make arteries and veins thicken, harden and interfere with blood flow. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body.

Peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line

A PICC (“pick”) line is a small tube that is inserted through an incision into a peripheral vein and then extended almost to the heart. A port in the skin allows regular IV access to deliver drugs and other therapies for a wide range of conditions, such as chemotherapy, long-term antibiotics, etc. PICC lines are semi-permanent and provide venous access for extended periods of time.

Pulmonary embolism

A blood clot in the lungs that usually originates in a vein in the arm or leg. A pulmonary embolism can be life threatening. Symptoms include acute shortness of breath and pain in the chest.

Sclerotherapy

Sclerotherapy is a procedure using injections to treat spider veins. Using an extremely tiny needle, we inject the vein with a solution that shrinks the vein, causing it to become all but invisible. The vast majority of patients who have sclerotherapy experience significant clearing in the appearance of their veins. It is extremely rare for the condition to worsen because of the treatment.

Spider veins

Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but they are smaller. They are often red or blue and are closer to the surface of the skin than varicose veins. They can look like tree branches or spider webs with their short jagged lines and can cover either a very small or very large area of skin.

Stent

A stent is an artificial tube that is inserted into a blood vessel or other conduit to hold it open temporarily or sometimes permanently.

Stroke

A stroke occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the brain is blocked. Without oxygen, brain cells start to die after a few minutes. Sudden bleeding in the brain also can cause a stroke if it damages brain cells. If brain cells die or are damaged because of a stroke, symptoms occur in the parts of the body that these brain cells control. Examples of stroke symptoms include sudden weakness; paralysis or numbness of the face, arms, or legs; trouble speaking or understanding speech; and trouble seeing. A stroke is a serious medical condition that requires emergency care. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death.

Surface laser therapy

Surface laser therapy is a treatment option for spider veins. The procedure uses pulses of light energy to cause the blood in the vein to coagulate, eventually destroying the vein, which is then reabsorbed by the body and disappears. The body redirects the blood flow to veins deeper below the skin's surface, which cannot be seen.

Thoracic aneurysm

The thoracic artery is the largest artery in the chest, allowing blood to pass from the heart to the rest of the body. The major vessels that supply the brain branch off of the thoracic artery. A thoracic aneurysm occurs when an area of the aorta swells to greater than 1.5 times its normal size, usually representing an underlying weakness in the wall of the aorta at that location.

Thrombolytic therapy

The use of drugs such as a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) to break up a blood clot.

Tunneled venous catheters

Catheters that provide access to multiple channels or tubes (lumens) into the body through one access point. The catheters are surgically placed in a large central vein in the chest. The catheters are tunneled under the skin, but the opening - an access port - remains outside the body. This is a long-term catheter that’s good for months to years. The external catheter port requires regular care and flushing.

Uterine fibroid

Uterine fibroids are benign, noncancerous growths within or on the muscular walls of the uterus that can range in size from 1/4 - inch to the size of a cantaloupe. They are relatively common and affect 20 to 40 percent of women of childbearing age. Patients needing uterine fibroid procedures, which are conducted at a hospital, are frequently referred to VCU Health at Baird Vascular Institute for evaluation and follow-up on an outpatient basis, eliminating the need for multiple return visits to the hospital.

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are the result of venous insufficiency, which occurs when the valves in the veins are no longer able to close adequately. Because the blood is not being fully pumped back to the lungs, the blood pools in the veins, causing the veins to swell and appear enlarged and ropey.

Vascular surgeon

A vascular surgeon is a physician who specializes in surgery in which diseases of the vascular system, or arteries and veins, are managed by medical therapy, minimally invasive catheter procedures and surgical reconstruction.

Vena cava filter

A filter implanted inside a vein to trap and capture free-floating blood clots from the lower body going to the heart. Filters are used for patients who have or are at risk to develop these clots (deep vein thrombosis) in the legs and who cannot be treated by blood thinners alone.

Venous access (IV access)

A general term describing a procedure and/or devices that allow your physician to administer drugs and other therapeutic agents directly into the bloodstream over the long term without having to repeatedly puncture different blood vessels to start IVs.

Venous insufficiency

The primary cause of varicose veins, venous insufficiency occurs when the valves in the veins become incompetent. The valves in the vein are no longer able to sufficiently close, blood is not effectively pumped back to the lungs for re-oxygenation, and blood pools in the veins, causing swelling.

Vertebral kyphoplasty

A procedure in which a catheter is positioned between two compressed and fractured vertebrae and a medical-grade “cement” is injected to stabilize and strengthen the support in the back. Today, kyphoplasy can be done as an outpatient treatment.