Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a blood vessel disease that impacts the blood flow outside of the brain or heart. We usually use this term to talk about diseases affecting the arterial circulation, which are the vessels that carry oxygen rich blood from the heart to the tissues of the body. Certain venous diseases, like varicose veins, are considered a form of PVD, but, more commonly, peripheral vascular disease affects the arteries, and is called peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD involves the buildup of fatty plaques in the blood vessels in the legs and tends to have a direct correlation to cardiovascular disease. Heart attack and stroke are both more common in patients with PAD, so it is vital to diagnose and treat the disease right away.
Common symptoms of PVD are pain in the legs when walking and exercising, leg fatigue, and a heavy feeling in the legs. In some cases, a patient with PVD won’t have any symptoms, or the symptoms will be quite vague, so it can be difficult to diagnose. It is important for patients with risk factors to be evaluated for PVD, as it can increase your risk of other cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke.
Another group of patients who should be looked at closely are those with non-healing wounds on their legs, particularly if they have risk factors for PVD. Wounds need a good supply of oxygen and nutrients and healing white-blood cells so that they can heal optimally. While things like diabetes and infection are often to blame for poor healing, if there are also high-grade blockages in the arteries, healing can be delayed and tissue loss that may sometimes lead to gangrene may occur. Improving blood flow with either angioplasty or surgery can be an important part of saving the patient from having to undergo amputations.
The risk factors for PVD are similar to the risk factors for coronary heart disease, and include:
While the risk factors for coronary heart disease and PVD are similar, there is a difference in their level of significance for PVD. For instance, tobacco use is a risk factor for both coronary disease and PVD, but it seems to be an especially strong risk factor for PVD.
The buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries happens over time as the arteries become weakened, narrowed, and eventually blocked by the fatty matter. Arteries are no longer able to carry enough oxygen from the heart. Because the symptoms are similar to many other diseases, recommended testing involves several stages:
The right approach to PVD is one that focuses on a whole patient plan, including proper medication, smoking cessation assistance and exercise therapy, if possible. Peripheral vascular disease does not have to be a life-threatening illness. Quick diagnosis and proper treatment can greatly impact a person’s quality of life and can positively affect their chance of survival.
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Published June 14, 2019