Helpful Terminology


abdominal aorta: the largest artery in the body, between the diaphragm and the umbilicus (belly button)

acute: a rapid onset, with pronounced symptoms, usually sharp or severe

Allen’s test: an exam used to test the continuity of the palmar arch (of the hand), usually supplied by the radial and ulnar arteries

amaurosis fugax: sudden, temporary loss of vision due to insufficient blood flow to the eye; often described as a shade or curtain lowered over the eye; usually unilateral

amputation: removal of all or part of a limb, either traumatic or surgical

anastomosis: a surgically created pairing of blood vessels

aneurysm: a ballooning or bulging of the wall of a vein or artery, usually due to a weakening in the wall or congenital abnormalities

angiogram: injection of radiopaque contrast material into an artery as x-ray picture are taken; also called arteriogram

angioplasty: repair of a blood vessel

anterior tibial artery: distal branch of the popliteal artery that supplies the anterior lower leg, ankle, and foot

anticoagulant: any substance which interferes with the blood coagulation process

aorta: the largest artery in the body, originating at the heart (left ventricle) and serving as the primary trunk from which the entire arterial system proceeds

aortic dissection: hemorrhagic or intramural hematoma separating the layers of the aortic wall

arterial insufficiency: inadequate blood supply within the arterial system most often caused by a narrowing in the vessel proximal to an inadequately supplied area

arterial ulceration: a sore present at the extremities, due to inadequate blood supply. Generally speaking, with the legs, arterial ulceration’s are located below the ankle, at the feet and toes.

arteritis: inflammation of the arteries

arterioles: the smallest arterial vessels that transport blood from the arteries to the capillaries

arteriosclerosis: term used to describe conditions causing the artery walls to thicken, harden, and lose elasticity

arteriovenous malformation: abnormal connection between an artery and a vein; if surgically created, it is referred to as a shunt or fistula

artery: vessel that transports oxygen-rich blood to the tissues

atheroma: fatty deposit in the inner most wall of the artery

atherosclerosis: a form of arteriosclerosis in which thick, atheromatous plaques are deposited in the intima of the artery


B-mode ultrasound: a transducer that detects Doppler pulses that reflect off tissues of varying densities, signals are displayed in the shades of gray or brightness

balloon dilatation: procedure often, although not always, performed as a transluminal angioplasty; reopening the lumen of a blood vessel by the insertion of a specially designed balloon catheter that can be inflated

blood pressure: pressure of blood exerted against the walls of the vessel; usually referred to as systolic and diastolic pressure

brachial artery: usually used to assess blood pressure; originates as a continuation of the axillary artery and branches into the radial and ulnar arteries

brachial plexus: a bundle of nerves in the neck that extend to the finger tips, often becoming entrapped in thoracic outlet syndrome

bruit: a sound or murmur caused by blood turbulence heard on auscultation of an artery

Buerger’s disease: thromboangitis obliterans; an inflammatory atherosclerotic disease usually found in young, tobacco-smoking men; characterized by thrombosis and inflammation in the arteries and veins

bypass graft: a means of restoring blood flow around a physiologic obstruction by using a conduit to detour around the site of obstruction


calf muscle pump: venous blood is moved from the legs to the heart by the leg muscles compressing the intramuscular sinuses and deep intramuscular veins during exercise

capillary: a minute blood vessel that forms a network between arterioles and venules and contains a semipermeable membrane wall that interchanges various substances between the blood and tissue fluid

carotid artery: artery along the neck which supplies the majority of the blood flow to the brain; further divides into internal and external branches

celiac artery: first short, thick vessel arising from the anterior aspect h of the abdominal aorta, usually dividing into the hepatic, splenic, and left gastric arteries

cephalic vein: superficial arm vein arising from the subclavian vein

cerebrovascular accident (CVA): stroke; insufficient blood flow to portion of the brain caused by thrombosis, hemorrhage, or embolism

cerebrovascular: related to the blood vessels and circulation in the brain

cholesterol: a steroid alcohol present in animal fats and oils, and various body organs and tissues; most cholesterol is produced by the liver, some is obtained from food; causes atheroma in the arteries

chronic: occurring over a long period of time

circulation: movement of blood in a regular course through the heart and blood vessels

claudication: pain of the lower extremities due to insufficient arterial flow; reproducible leg pain which occurs during walking and is relieved by cessation of walking.

coagulation: process of blood clot formation; sequential process in three stages where multiple coagulation factors of the blood interact, resulting in an insoluble fibrin clot

collateral circulation: pre-existing channels in the arterial system that dilate and lengthen to provide adequate flow to an area when a major vessel becomes blocked

compartment syndrome: severe muscle edema within the osteofacial compartments in the arm or leg, causing increased pressure on the blood vessels and nerves; treatment includes a fasciotomy

compression pneumatic device: a device that applies sequential or intermittent pressure on a continuous basis to an immobilized patient’s extremities to assist venous return to the heart from the extremity and help prevent thrombosis

compression stockings: elasticized hosiery that compresses the extremity, facilitating venous blood return to the heart and the prevention of thrombosis; one type of hosiery compresses with the same pressure throughout, graduated hosiery compresses with greater pressure at the ankle and decreases as it progresses toward the knee

computed tomography (CT scan): invasive diagnostic test in which photographs of axial slices of body are made

crescendo TIA (see TIAs): TIAs that become more frequent in occurrence

cyanosis: bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes due to blood carrying reduced hemoglobin to the tissues


deep venous thrombosis (DVT): the presence of a blood clot in the deep venous system of the arms or legs

dependent rubor: abnormal deep red color caused by sudden filling and subsequent pooling of the small vessels; occurs with extremity in a dependent position

diabetes mellitus: a metabolic disorder in which the ability to oxidize carbohydrates is lost with a disturbance in normal insulin mechanism; long-term diabetic changes include arteriosclerosis

digital subtraction angiography (DSA): a computerized x-ray in which an intravenous injection of contrast material is used to visualize major arteries

dilatation: action of stretching an orifice or tubular structure

dissecting aneurysm: splitting or rupture of the intima that permits blood to escape between the layers of the vessel wall

distal: farthest from the point of reference, usually the heart

doppler: a diagnostic instrument that emits an ultrasonic sound wave through the tissue toward a blood vessel; the sound waves strike the moving blood cells and are transmitted back. This transmitted frequency is amplified and presented as an audible graphic or spectral display, and changes in proportion to the velocity of blood. Sound waves diminish if arterial stenosis is present

dorsalis pedis: the main artery in the foot; the termination of the anterior tibial artery

duplex scanning: combination of B-mode ultrasound with pulsed Doppler and spectral analysis of the duplex signal so that blood flow can be visualized within a vessel


edema: abnormal accumulation of fluid within interstitial spaces

embolus: a blood clot or other foreign material that travels in the blood stream and often obstructs a vessel; may consist of a solid, gas, or a liquid

endarterectomy: the surgical removal of atheromatous material from an arterial segment

external iliac artery: artery that originates at the common iliac and supplies the abdominal wall, external genitalia and lower limbs


false aneurysm (pseudoaneurysm): pulsating hematoma that occurs when blood is released through all layers of the artery wall

fasciotomy: incision done to relieve intrinsic pressure of muscle edema

femoral artery: main artery of the thigh arising from the external iliac and terminating in the popliteal area


gangrene: necrosis or tissue death due to insufficient blood supply and bacterial invasion. There are many types of gangrene. No healing will take place unless the gangrenous area is removed (debrided) or amputated

graft: replacing a defect in a blood vessel with a suitable material. Also, the material used for the replacement

greater saphenous vein: vein extending from the foot to inguinal ligament (groin)


hemangioma: a benign tumor composed of newly formed blood vessels

hemiparesis: paralysis or loss of muscular tone affecting one side of the body

hemiplegia: paralysis of one side of the body

hemoglobin: the oxygen-carrying portion of the blood

hemorrhage: the external or internal loss of a large amount of blood in a short time

heparin: pharmacologic agent used for anticoagulation, extracted from cattle or hog mucosa or bovine lung tissue; prohibits the extension of thrombus

high density lipoprotein (HDL): a binding of cholesterol to protein that encourages the removal of excess cholesterol from the cells and eliminates it from the body. Also known in lay mans language as “the good cholesterol“

Homan’s sign: pain occurring in the calf which occurs with dorsiflexion of the foot

hypercholesterolemia: excessive cholesterol in the blood

hyperemia: excessive blood in a body part

hypertension: abnormally increased blood pressure

hypotension: low blood pressure

hypoxia: a decreased amount of oxygen available in the tissue


iliac artery: artery originating from the abdominal aorta that supplies the pelvis, abdominal wall, and lower limbs; has internal and external branches bilaterally

impotence: inability of the male to attain or maintain an erection, may be vascular in origin, such as paralysis of the motor nerves in the perineal region

incision: a cut or a wound produced by a sharp instrument

incompetence: backward flowing of blood due to imperfect closing of valves

infarction: an area of ischemic necrosis resulting from inadequate arterial supply

inferior vena cava: large vein that returns blood to the heart from the lower part of the body, located along the abdominal region.

innominate artery: artery originating at aortic arch that branches into right carotid and subclavian arteries

invasive procedure: any procedure in which tissues undergo instrumental penetration

ischemia: reduction of blood supply from partial or complete obstruction of a blood vessel


jugular vein: major vein of the neck, subdivided into the external, internal, and anterior jugular veins




laser: a device which transforms light of various frequencies into an extremely intense, small, and nondivergent beam of radiation. Used as a tool in surgical procedures, in diagnosis, and physiologic studies. Capable of mobilizing immense heat and power when focused at close range

Leriche syndrome: arterial stenosis or occlusion occurring in the aortoiliac bifurcation resulting in ischemic symptoms such as claudication and impotence

lesser saphenous vein: one of two major superficial veins in the leg that originates at the foot and drains into the popliteal vein at knee level

lipid: a mixture of fatty, oily, and waxy compounds that are insoluble in water. Lipids which are easily stored in the body serve as a course of fuel and have other biological functions

low density lipoprotein (LDL): the binding of protein to cholesterol that is deposited in the cells of blood vessels and muscles. Also known in lay mans’ language as “the bad cholesterol”

lumen: internal channel of a blood vessel

lymph: transparent, slightly yellow liquid found in lymphatic vessels and derived from tissue fluids. Lymph is collected from all parts of the body and returned to the blood via the lymphatic system

lymphangitis: an acute inflammation of the lymphatic channels, characterized by fever, chills, local pain, or tenderness at lymph nodes

lymphedema: swelling of subcutaneous tissue due to excessive lymph fluid, secondary to obstruction of lymph vessels or disorders of the lymph nodes; often surgically- induced


metallic stent: an intra-arterial device which mechanically stabilizes and supports the vessel wall to prevent closure

mesenteric angina: abdominal pain associated with intestinal ischemia; frequently occurs after eating

mesenteric artery: artery originating from abdominal aorta subdivided into a superior mesenteric (supplies the small intestine and proximal colon) and inferior mesenteric (supplies the descending colon and rectum)

mesenteric insufficiency: chronic visceral ischemia

musculovenous pump: the driving force imposed by contracting muscles of the calf which facilitates venous return

mycotic aneurysm: weakness of a vessel wall caused by a bacterial or fungal infection

myocardial infarction: necrosis of heart muscle caused by stenosis of one or more of the coronary arteries


necrosis: death of a cell resulting from disease or injury

neurogenic: caused by a dysfunction of the nervous system

neuropathy: any disease of the nervous system which results in symptoms such as pain, decreased or unusual sensations

neurotrophic ulcer: a painless, spontaneous ulcer which occurs on the sole of the foot, at pressure points

noninvasive: procedure that has no penetration of tissues by instrumentation


occlusion: the state of being closed; an arterial occlusion may result in ischemia of the affected part

ophthalmic artery: the first branch of the internal carotid artery which has three terminal branches: frontal, supraorbital, nasal arteries


pallor: absence of skin coloring; pale coloration often seen in the feet and legs of patients with arterial insufficiency when the legs are elevated

palmar arches: the junction formed in the palm by the ulnar and radial arteries

palpation: use of fingers or hand to examine an area of the body

paralysis: loss of voluntary motion of a body part

paresis: partial or incomplete paralysis

paresthesias: abnormal sensation due to a disorder of the nervous system; examples include numbness, prickling sensation

patency: the condition of being wide open; blood flowing through an open vessel

pedal pulse: pulses on the foot (see pulse)

percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA): balloon dilatation; balloon catheter is inserted via direct puncture through the skin into the blood vessel, inflation of the balloon compresses the plaque, expanding the vessel walls

perforating veins: small venous channels connecting the superficial and deep venous systems

peripheral vascular disease: a variety of diseases and syndromes, generally involving the peripheral arterial system

peroneal artery: artery originating from the tibioperoneal trunk and supplying the ankle and deep calf muscles

phlebitis: inflammation of the vein, virtually always associated with thrombosis of the vein

plasma: the fluid portion of the blood consisting of many proteins in a crystalloid solution

platelet: the smallest of the elements of the blood; functions are related to blood coagulation; tends to adhere to uneven surfaces

plaque (atheromatous): a buildup of fatty material in the lining of blood vessels seen in atherosclerosis

popliteal artery: major artery behind the knee, originating from the superficial femoral artery and ending in the trifurcation vessels

posterior tibial artery: artery located in lower leg, originating at the tibioperoneal trunk and providing flow to the foot, leg, and heel

post phlebitic syndrome: chronic venous insufficiency caused by deep venous thrombosis in the leg

profunda femoris artery: large branch of the common femoral artery that supplies the thigh, hip, gluteal muscles, and femur

profundoplasty: surgical procedure to open or patch the profunda femoris artery in order to increase blood flow to the leg

prophylaxis: any measure taken to prevent the development of a disease

pseudo claudication: pain in thigh or buttocks or lower leg, similar to claudication type pain, however, not caused by vascular insufficiency (usually neurogenic)

pulmonary embolus (PE): vascular occlusion in the pulmonary arterial circulation, most often caused by a blood clot dislodged from a vein in the lower body which travels to the lung

pulsatile: characterized by a rhythmic beating

pulse: the regular, recurrent wave of distention palpable over an artery caused by ejection of blood with each cardiac contraction




radial artery: a major artery in the forearm, originating at the brachial artery near the elbow joint and terminating in the palmar arch in the hand

Raynaud’s disease: intermittent vasospasm of peripheral arteries resulting in pallor, cyanosis, and rubor, often induced by cold, with otherwise normal arterial inflow

Raynaud’s phenomenon: intermittent vasospasm of peripheral arteries resulting in pallor, cyanosis, or rubor in the digits, often induced by cold; frequently secondary to chronic arterial occlusive disease, collagen vascular disease, or other systemic disease

reactive hyperemia: increased blood flow resulting from dilated blood vessels as a response to a temporary occlusion

recanalization: restoration (usually partial restoration) of the lumen of a blood vessel following occlusion

renovascular hypertension: persistently high blood pressure due to disease of the renal arteries

rest pain: pain occurring in the leg at rest, usually a sign of chronic severe ischemia from arterial occlusive disease; a progression of claudication

reversible ischemic neurologic deficit (RIND): neurologic deficit which lasts greater than 24 hours, but not over 72 hours

rubor: redness, due to dilated cutaneous blood vessels, frequently associated with chronic ischemia


sclerosis: hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of fibrous connective tissue, lipids, and calcium salts

shunt: a natural or surgically created connection that channels flow from one pathway to another, especially between blood vessels

stasis: a stoppage or stagnation of blood or other body fluid

stenosis: constriction, narrowing of the lumen of a blood vessel

stroke (CVA): sudden onset of neurologic dysfunction caused by interference of blood flow to the brain with symptoms persisting for more than 24 hours

subclavian artery: artery below the clavicle originating at the aortic arch on the left and from the brachiocephalic trunk on the right, with branches that supply the neck, thoracic wall, spinal cord, brain, meninges, and upper extremities

superficial femoral artery (SFA): major artery of the thigh, a continuation of the common femoral artery

superior vena cava: the venous trunk that drains blood from the head, neck, upper extremities, and thorax into the right atrium of the heart

sympathectomy: surgical or chemical interruption of a portion of the sympathetic chain to induce dilatation of arteries

syncope: temporary suspension of consciousness; fainting


thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS): a condition characterized by compression of the brachial plexus, subclavian artery or subclavian vein as they pass between the first rib and clavicle

thrombophlebitis: the development of venous thrombi in association with inflammatory changes in the vein wall

thrombosis: formation of thrombus in a blood vessel lumen

thrombus: aggregation of blood factors and other cellular elements causing vascular obstruction

transcutaneous: percutaneous, performed through the skin

transient ischemic attack (TIA): a sudden episode of focal neurologic dysfunction lasting under 24 hours with complete recovery, usually associated with atherosclerotic disease in the internal carotid artery which lies along the neck region

transluminal angioplasty: see percutaneous transluminal angioplasty

trophic skin changes: alterations in the skin due to compromised nutritional status, e.g., hair loss, thickened hard nails, shiny skin


ulcer: a nonhealing wound or lesion on skin surface caused by arterial or venous disease

As a quick reference, arterial ulcers are located below the ankle (feet/toes) with venous ulcers located above the ankle

ulnar artery: a major artery in the forearm originating at the brachial artery and ending at the palmar arch


valvular incompetence (insufficiency): condition occurring when a venous valve fails to close completely, allowing blood to flow in an abnormal direction (backwards)

vascular: pertaining to blood vessels

vasculogenic: having its origin in the vascular system

vasoconstriction: narrowing of the lumen of a blood vessel resulting from contractions of the vessel walls

vasodilatation: enlargement in the lumen of the blood vessel resulting from relaxation of the vessel walls

vein: a blood vessel that transports unoxygenated blood from the tissues to the heart

venography: visualization of the venous anatomy following the injection of a contrast agent

venous ulceration: sore located above the ankle; usually located at the inner or medial side of the leg; caused by incompetent valves which increase venous pressure

venule: a small vein connecting the capillaries to veins

vertebral artery: first branch of the subclavian artery, provides major blood flow to the posterior brain

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