Where is the Iliac Artery and May-Thurner Syndrome | USA Vascular Centers

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What You Need to Know About Iliac Arteries

iliac arteries

When it comes to peripheral artery disease, two of the most significant arteries to understand are the iliac arteries. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition where one or more of the arteries leading to your legs and feet become clogged with plaque. 

If you want to learn more about iliac arteries and whether you might be at risk of PAD, talk to one of our board-certified vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers. Highly skilled in diagnosing and treating PAD, our doctors can answer all the questions you might have about PAD and artery health. When you choose USA Vascular Centers, you’ll be putting your care in excellent hands. 

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What Are the Iliac Arteries?

The iliac arteries carry blood from the largest artery in the body—the aorta—to your legs. The aorta pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. It does this through a complex network of arteries, smaller arteries called arterioles, and tiny blood vessels that distribute oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, called capillaries. 

The iliac arteries include the common iliac artery, the external iliac artery, and the internal iliac artery, which together work to bring blood to the lower half of your body, including your thighs, rear, and legs.

Where Are the Iliac Arteries?

In your abdomen, the aorta branches into the left common iliac artery and the right common iliac artery. This split is located near the belly button area.1 The iliac arteries are peripheral arteries because they provide oxygenated blood to the legs, feet, and ankles, which are far from the heart. In other words, they’re in a “peripheral” area of the body. The answer to the question, “Where are the iliac arteries?” is important because an iliac artery blockage can keep blood from flowing efficiently to the legs, causing debilitating symptoms of PAD.

After the split, the left and right common iliac arteries each branch into two more sections in the pelvic region: the external iliac artery and the internal iliac artery. The iliac arteries are also intertwined with the iliac veins, which take deoxygenated blood back to the heart. You may still be wondering, “Where are the iliac arteries after they leave the pelvic region?” Exploring the external and internal iliac arteries can help answer this question. 

Keep in mind that each side of the body has both an external and internal iliac artery. This is because after the aorta splits into the left and right common iliac artery, the common iliac artery splits yet again on each side of the body, forming the internal and external iliac artery.

External Iliac Artery

The external iliac artery is the larger of the two branches that split off the common iliac artery. The external iliac arteries become the femoral arteries, which provide oxygenated blood to the legs and feet. 

Internal Iliac Artery

The internal iliac artery is the smaller of the two branches that come off the common iliac. As with the external iliac, there is one on each side of the body, and these arteries supply blood to various regions, including your thighs, hips, and buttocks.

Conditions That Affect the Iliac Arteries

One of the most common conditions that affect these peripheral arteries is plaque buildup, called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis causes iliac artery blockage and peripheral artery disease. 

With PAD, the arterial passageway is narrowed, preventing blood from efficiently flowing to your legs, feet, and ankles. This condition can cause a host of problems with circulation in your legs and feet, including painful cramping, slowed wound healing, lower extremity edema, and eventually limb death if left untreated. 

May-Thurner syndrome is another serious condition that can affect the iliac arteries. In this condition, the right common iliac artery pushes the left common iliac vein against your spine. May-Thurner syndrome can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a life-threatening blood clot in the deep veins of your leg. This condition isn’t usually diagnosed until a person shows signs of DVT, but research shows it may be present in up to 20 percent of the population.²

If you or a loved one shows symptoms of May-Thurner syndrome and DVT, such as pain, tenderness, and warmth in the leg, seek emergency medical care immediately. Thankfully, May-Thurner syndrome is treatable with iliac artery stents and medications. 

In addition to PAD and May-Thurner syndrome, Another condition that can affect the iliac arteries is iliac artery stenosis, a narrowing of the artery due to a rare blood vessel disease (fibromuscular dysplasia).¹

How Do I Keep My Arteries Healthy?

Making certain lifestyle choices can help keep your arteries healthy. For example, if you smoke, quitting can lower your risk of developing iliac artery blockage and PAD. Eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean meats can also help keep your arteries healthy, as can making a goal to exercise for at least half an hour a day.

One simple way to implement an exercise routine is to take a half-hour walk every day after lunch or dinner. If you have any concerns about your arterial health, bring them up to your doctor or talk to one of our vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers. Our empathetic doctors and surgeons understand the importance of keeping the arteries healthy, and they can recommend additional exercises and prevention techniques to keep your arteries as healthy as possible.

When Should I See a Vascular Specialist?

See a vascular doctor as soon as possible if you have any concerns about your iliac arteries. Vascular doctors can help reduce your iliac artery blockage symptoms and lower your risk of developing gangrene and other serious complications. They can recommend lifestyle changes while also considering your medical history. If needed, they can prescribe medication to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. A vascular doctor can also assess your risk of DVT and prescribe medication to reduce the risk of blood clots. 

Choosing the vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers means that you’ll be receiving care from some of the top vascular doctors in the country. Our surgeons can perform three minimally invasive procedures to treat PAD in the iliac arteries: angioplasty, iliac artery stent placement, and atherectomy. These procedures help open clogged arteries, removing blockages and helping keep new ones from forming. 

Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers

At USA Vascular Centers, our doctors can address your worries about iliac artery blockage and other complications. Many of our vascular doctors are also vascular surgeons who specialize in PAD. They are experts in treating iliac artery blockages, with years of experience placing iliac artery stents to help treat iliac artery issues.

We’ll help treat your PAD symptoms so you can get back to enjoying your full, active life. If you are concerned about your iliac artery health, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with one of our vascular doctors online or call us at 888.773.2193 today.

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Sources Cited

[1] Peters, Matthew, Rashad Khazi Syed, Morgan Katz, John Moscona, Christopher Press, Vikram Nijjar, Mohannad Bisharat, and Drew Baldwin. “May-Thurner Syndrome: A Not so Uncommon Cause of a Common Condition.” Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center). Baylor Health Care System, July 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3377287/

[2] “Hardening of the Arteries.” Mount Sinai Health System. Accessed June 14, 2022. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/hardening-of-the-arteries.

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