Aortoiliac Atherosclerosis

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Sores on your feet or legs or problems getting erections are sometimes caused by artery conditions. Aortoiliac atherosclerosis, also called aortoiliac occlusive disease, happens when plaque builds up (atherosclerosis) on the walls of your iliac arteries. Your iliac arteries branch off from the end of your aorta. They bring blood down to your legs.

Atherosclerosis makes the arteries narrow and hard. The plaque slows and even stops the blood flow from your aorta to your legs. You might not know you have this disease. 

At UVA, our team of heart and vascular experts work with you on the best treatment options for aortoiliac disease. We've been recognized for our experienced, high-quality heart care, especially in aortic, valve, and bypass surgery.

Treating Aortoiliac Atherosclerosis

How we treat your aortoiliac disease depends on how bad it is. Aortoiliac disease treatment usually starts with lifestyle changes and medicine. Like with all artery disease, you should:

  • Watch your diet (controlling your cholesterol and managing diabetes)
  • Get regular exercise
  • Quit smoking

If you do need medicine, you may need drugs to:

  • Prevent blood clots
  • Lower cholesterol

If you have more severe atherosclerosis, you might need a procedure or surgery. These might include:

  • A balloon that opens the artery (angioplasty)
  • A support that holds the artery open (stent)
  • Creating a route around the blockage (bypass surgery)

As with all surgeries at UVA, you can count on us for using the latest techniques. We give you the advantage of high-tech and trained specialists you can't find everywhere.

What Causes Aortoiliac Disease

A build-up of plaque on your artery walls can be caused by:

  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Genetics
  • Not enough exercise
  • Being overweight or obese
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes

Conditions that cause swelling in your arteries, like Takayasu arteritis, can also lead to blockages. Some radiation treatments in your legs or pelvis can also cause artery swelling and blockages.

Symptoms of Aortoiliac Disease

Most people with aortoiliac atherosclerosis don’t get symptoms. As the disease gets worse, you might feel:

  • Fatigue, heaviness, pain, or cramps in your legs, thighs, or buttocks when walking
  • Trouble getting or keeping an erection
  • Pain, cold, or numbness in your lower legs or feet
  • Sores or wounds on your legs or feet that don’t get better

Diagnosing Aortoiliac Occlusive Disease

If we think you might have aortoiliac atherosclerosis, we’ll examine you by:

  • Measuring your blood pressure in your ankles and arms (ankle-brachial index)
  • Ultrasound
  • CT scans
  • MRI