Alternative Names: PVD, Peripheral Artery Disease, Peripheral Arterial Disease, PAD, Leg Artery Disease
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) refers to diseases of the arteries and veins that are located outside the heart and brain. It is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs.
When PVD develops, the body's extremities (usually the legs) receive insufficient blood to satisfy their needs, causing symptoms such as leg pain when walking.
About 5% of people over the age of 50 are believed to suffer from peripheral artery disease. Peripheral artery disease is slightly more common in men than in women.
Peripheral artery disease is often caused by atherosclerosis. Although we usually think of the heart when discussing atherosclerosis, it can and usually does affect other arteries in the body as well; when it occurs in the arteries supplying blood to the limbs, it causes peripheral vascular disease.
A number of conditions such as vasculitis may cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body. Injuries to blood vessels (such as those occurring in a car accident or sports injury), blood-clotting disorders, and damage to blood vessels during surgery can also lead to tissue ischemia.
Other less common causes include blood vessel inflammation, injury to the limbs, unusual muscle or ligament anatomy, or radiation exposure.
The risk factors are additive, meaning that a person with a combination of two risk factors – diabetes and smoking, for example – has an increased likelihood of developing more severe peripheral artery disease than a person with only one risk factor.
Approximately half of people with PVD do not experience any symptoms, but for those with symptoms the most common is leg pain when walking (intermittent claudication). Symptoms of PVD depend upon the location and extent of the blocked arteries and include:
As peripheral artery disease progresses, pain may occur even when at rest or when lying down, and it may be severe enough to disrupt sleep.
Signs of peripheral vascular disease include weak or absent pulse in the extremities; sounds (bruits) that can be heard with a stethoscope; blood pressure changes in the limbs between rest and exercise (the treadmill test); skin color and nail changes due to tissue ischemia.
Treatment goals include pain relief, improving exercise tolerance, and preventing critical artery occlusion, heart attacks and strokes.
Peripheral vascular disease can be successfully treated by lifestyle alterations, medications, angioplasty and related treatments, or surgery. Lifestyle alterations also help prevent PVD and include quitting tobacco, exercising and eating a healthy diet.
Smoking cessation eliminates a major risk factor for disease progression and lowers the incidences of rest pain and need for amputations. It also helps prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Properly supervised exercise can condition the muscles to use oxygen more effectively and improve circulation.
Medications may be required and include:
When experiencing pain while lying down, hanging your legs over the edge of your bed or walking around your room may temporarily relieve the pain.
Angioplasty is a nonsurgical procedure that can widen a narrowed or blocked arteries. In more difficult cases, surgical techniques such as bypass surgery (creating detours around a blocked artery) or endarterectomy (cleaning out plaque buildup inside an artery) can be used.
If you have leg pain, numbness or other symptoms, don't dismiss them as a normal part of aging – see your doctor.
The first symptom of leg artery disease is usually pain in the legs that comes on after walking for a while and goes away with rest. This "angina of the legs" is called intermittent claudication. It is not a normal part of getting older. If you feel it, report it to a doctor.
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