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What are Collateral Vessels?

By Eric Stolze
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By Oceana — On Jul 21, 2011

I have a Chinese friend who developed Bell’s Palsy. She said that traditional Chinese medicine holds that the cause of the illness is invasion of collateral vessels in the face by cold wind or phlegm. It sounded strange to me, but since Bell’s Palsy goes away on its own after awhile, I didn’t object to the theory.

With this condition, one side of her face became paralyzed for about a month. To credit her belief, she had been working outside in the bitter cold the day before she developed it. She got acupuncture as treatment, and she also was told to keep her face warm.

Whether her collateral vessels really did cause it or not, she recovered pretty soon. Her treatment was probably better than the steroids that a regular physician would have recommended.

By wavy58 — On Jul 20, 2011

I understand how collateral vessels could be dangerous, but it seems even more dangerous to initiate a blood clot to get rid of them! I always hear horror stories of blood clots and how they kill people suddenly without warning.

My cousin died of a blood clot when she was only in her thirties. Because she was otherwise healthy, everyone was so shocked at her sudden death.

I think that if I ever had a problem caused by collateral vessels, I would beg my doctor to find another way to fix the situation. The article says that the clot would seal the vessels “in most instances,” and I don’t want to be the exception!

By OeKc05 — On Jul 19, 2011

Because of collateral vessels, my uncle got endocarditis. This occurred because bacteria entered the vessels and got into one of his heart valves. He did not know it for awhile, and by the time he got diagnosed with it, he required a long hospital stay.

He spent four weeks hooked up to an IV so that he could receive antibiotics. When his condition did not go away, he had to have surgery to replace his damaged valve. He now has an artificial one, and they plugged off his collateral vessels to prevent this from ever happening again.

By cloudel — On Jul 19, 2011

My aunt had a severe stroke a few years back. She lost the ability to speak, and for a short while, she lost mobility in one side of her body.

Her doctor told us that if it weren’t for the presence of enlarged collateral vessels in her body, she could have died. The extra blood flow saved her from even worse brain damage.

He did not recommend surgery to close these off. Since stroke patients are prone to future strokes, he thought it best to leave the vessels in place and let them potentially save her again someday.

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