Collateral vessels are extra blood vessels that connect portions of the same artery or link two different arteries. These alternate blood circulation routes develop in most people and are usually closed to the flow of blood. The collateral vessels can be microscopic or they may grow larger. In some individuals, enlarged collateral blood vessels begin to transport blood. Some cases of active collateral circulation are beneficial, while in other instances, this kind of added blood circulation can cause serious medical complications.
Doctors may diagnose collateral circulation with the aid of medical tests such as an echocardiogram, chest x-ray or electrocardiogram. In some cases, physicians recommend treatment to close vessels that have opened and enlarged. A cardiac catheterization procedure may be used to place special plugs and coils in the alternate blood vessels and close them off. The plugs and coils cause blood clots to form in the vessels and promote tissue growth that permanently seals these vessels in most instances.
Coronary heart disease can cause partial or complete artery blockages known as myocardial ischemia. These blockages often cause insufficient blood flow to a patient’s heart muscle. Collateral vessels benefit some myocardial ischemia patients when their extra vessels open up and supply blood to the heart, partially replacing the lack of circulation in the blocked arteries. A stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) may block the flow of blood in the brain. In some instances, stroke patients have experienced improved blood flow in their brains from collateral vessels that reroute blood around blockages.
Some people with collateral vessels develop congestive heart failure, a serious condition caused by an excessive strain on the heart and an inability to pump enough blood. Common symptoms of congestive heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling of the ankles, feet and abdomen. Doctors may prescribe drugs such as blood pressure medications to improve blood flow throughout the circulatory system. Some patients with congestive heart failure undergo coronary bypass or angioplasty surgery as well as heart valve replacement surgery to improve blood flow to the heart.
Collateral vessels may cause endocarditis in some individuals. Endocarditis is an inflammation of the heart valves and inside lining of the chambers of the heart. This condition may be more likely to occur in cases where the heart’s valves have become weakened. Fever, excessive sweating and fatigue are common symptoms of this medical condition. Physicians may recommend long-term antibiotic use or heart valve surgery as treatments for endocarditis.