Our circulatory system, comprising arteries, veins and capillaries that carry oxygen to our cells as well as remove waste from them, plays a vital role in keeping us alive. However, even the healthiest among us don’t pay much attention to it until, of course, the smooth flow of blood is hindered creating bodily symptoms - a pain here; a swelling there; a wound that won’t heal; numbness that won’t go away.
Dr Mohamed Rafaar Okelah, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai and one of the most distinguished vascular and endovascular surgeons in the region, explains that poor blood circulation can cause a lot of problems whether it affects the arteries or the veins.
Arteries that transport blood with oxygen and nutrients can gradually develop blockages giving rise to a condition called chronic ischemia. “A lot of people in the UAE suffer from chronic ischemia due to the prevalence of diabetes, which also causes delay in wound healing and feet deformity,” says Dr Okelah. “Whereas a sudden blockage in an artery, or acute ischemia, is a surgical emergency that requires immediate attention.”
Another major concern is aneurysm, the weakening or dilation of the arterial wall, which can rupture leading to life-threatening problems.
If you feel pain on exertion, have wounds that don’t heal or have cold fingers and toes, it could be an indication of arterial problems, says Dr Okelah.
Al Zahra Hospital Dubai has not one but two catheterization laboratories, or cath labs, that can easily diagnose deep-rooted circulatory problems and help deliver the right treatment. The second is the first robotic lab of its kind in the Middle East.
“With regard to venous problems, weakness in the superficial veins called varicose veins is at the top of the list in the UAE, varying from some unpleasant looking small veins to large disfiguring veins causing many symptoms,” explains Dr Okelah. “A more serious condition, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), caused by a blockage in deep veins, is also common as it is associated with the use of oral contraceptive pills, prolonged standing and dehydration.”
Venous conditions are usually characterised by swelling in the limbs, blue discolouration, visible veins, heaviness and pain. When you have any of these symptoms, it’s time to consult a doctor. “Sudden swelling of the lower limb is always a serious sign that warrants seeking medical advice,” he says.
For the young, good circulation isn’t usually a big issue as the risk of vascular problems increases with age. Obesity, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and the use of contraceptive pills or other female hormones all raise the risk– most of which are widely prevalent in the UAE.
Although people seem to be mostly aware about varicose veins, they are unaware of other vascular conditions. “Vascular problems – apart from varicose veins – are very serious; they could lead to devastating results if left untreated,” explains Dr Okelah.
Fortunately, advances in diagnostics and therapy have ensured proper diagnosis and efficient treatment. “The good thing is that advanced treatment for most of the vascular problems are available at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai,” says Dr Okelah. “Today’s diagnostic and therapeutic techniques are widely dependent on endovascular procedures, utilising the concept of minimally invasive techniques to gain accurate diagnosis and efficient therapy, for which we are completely equipped.
“They all depend on inserting our devices through a very small puncture site at the skin over the groin. In the right hands endovascular techniques are much safer and effective for patients and results in less morbidity.”
But Dr Okelah insists that it is a tool and not a goal: whether endovascular or open surgery, doctors select the technique that is best suited to the patient.
He also believes that a vascular surgeon must be a part of the medical team that takes care of a deep vein thrombosis patient “as there are immediate, minimally invasive solutions for these patients and not only medical treatment”.
Aiding the doctors in delivering the best outcomes for patients at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai are its catheterization labs, one-of-a-kind integrated machines making diagnostic and therapeutic endovascular procedures much easier, utilising Intra Vascular Ultrasound (IVUS) or, for example, carbon dioxide angiography to handle patients with kidney problems avoiding any damage to kidneys.
Even after treatment, Dr Okelah emphasizes, patients need to lead a healthy lifestyle with regular physical exercise, proper hydration, food control and cessation of smoking to maintain good circulation.
To learn more about Al Zahra Hospital Dubai, click here