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Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a slow and progressive circulation disorder caused by narrowing, blockage, or spasms in a blood vessel.
PVD may involve disease in any of the blood vessels outside of the heart including the arteries, veins, or lymphatic vessels. Organs supplied by these vessels, such as the brain, and legs, may not get enough blood flow for proper function. However, the legs and feet are most commonly affected, thus the name peripheral vascular disease.
The terms "peripheral vascular disease" and "peripheral arterial disease" are often used interchangeably.
PVD is often characterized by a narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. The most common cause is atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque inside the artery wall. Plaque reduces the amount of blood flow to the limbs and decreases the oxygen and nutrients available to the tissue. Clots may form on the artery walls, further decreasing the inner size of the vessel and potentially blocking off major arteries.
Other causes of peripheral vascular disease may include:
People with coronary artery disease often also have peripheral vascular disease.
A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, diet, family history, or many other things. Risk factors for peripheral vascular disease include factors which can be changed or treated and factors that cannot be changed.
Risk factors that you can’t change:
Risk factors that may be changed or treated include:
Those who smoke or have diabetes mellitus have the highest risk of complications from peripheral vascular disease because these risk factors also cause impaired blood flow.
Approximately half the people diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease are symptom free. For those experiencing symptoms, the most common first symptom is intermittent claudication in the calf (leg discomfort described as painful cramping that occurs with exercise and is relieved by rest). During rest, the muscles need less blood flow, so the pain disappears. It may occur in one or both legs depending on the location of the clogged or narrowed artery.
Other symptoms of peripheral vascular disease may include:
The symptoms of peripheral vascular disease may resemble other conditions. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, other tests may include:
The main goals for treatment of peripheral vascular disease are to control the symptoms and halt the progression of the disease to lower the risk for heart attack, stroke, and other complications.
Specific treatment will be determined by your health care provider based on:
Treatment may include:
With both angioplasty and vascular surgery, an angiogram is often done before the procedure.
Complications of peripheral vascular disease most often occur because of decreased or absent blood flow. Such complications may include:
By following an aggressive treatment plan for peripheral vascular disease, complications such as these may be prevented.
Steps to prevent PVD are primarily aimed at management of the risk factors for PVD. A prevention program for PVD may include:
A prevention plan for PVD may also be used to prevent or lessen the progress of PVD once it has been diagnosed. Consult your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
It’s important to follow your health care provider’s recommendation for managing PVD to manage the symptoms and stop the disease from progressing.
If your symptoms get worse or you get new symptoms, let your health care provider know.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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