Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a progressive disease that occurs when arteries become clogged by the build up of fatty deposit and/or cholesterol (plaque). This build up commonly occurs in the legs and can limit nutrient-rich blood flow to the legs and feet. Symptoms of PVD may not always be obvious and many people experience pain or cramping in their legs and attribute these symptoms to natural aging or other causes.
If left untreated, people with PVD are more likely to develop infections, sores, or even gangrene which can result in the patient needing amputation. People with PVD are also more likely to suffer from heart attacks and strokes.
Affecting 8-12 million people in the United States, PVD is most common in people over the age of 50.
Risk Factors For PVD
While the exact cause of plaque build up in the arteries is unknown, there are several risk factors that can increase your risk for developing PVD. These risk factors include:
- Age 50 +
- Smoking or history of tobacco abuse
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Personal/family history of vascular disease, heart disease, or stroke
Symptoms of PVD
The usual signs and symptoms of peripheral vascular disease include:
- Claudication – fatigue, heaviness, cramping of the leg muscles that occurs during activity, such as walking or stair climbing. This pain usually goes away once the activity is stopped
- Pain in legs/feet while resting or at night (typically occurs as the disease process worsens)
- Sores or wounds on legs, feet, or toes that heal slowly or not at all
- Color changes in the feet/toes that may include paleness, redness, or blueness
- A cooler temperature in the affected leg when compared to the other leg
- Poor toe nail growth and hair growth on legs and feet
It is important to discuss these symptoms with your doctor to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment of peripheral vascular disease.
Diagnosis of PVD
Your doctor may be able to detect peripheral vascular disease during a physical exam by feeling the pulses in your legs and feet. Several tests can be performed to confirm the presence and severity of PVD:
- Lower Extremity Arterial Doppler: Simple, non-invasive testing using Doppler and blood pressures to measure the amount of blood flow in the legs
- Angiography: Invasive testing that uses a contrast solution to identify areas of blockage in the arteries with x-ray, magnetic resonance (MRA), and computerized tomography imaging (CTA)
Treatment of PVD
Your healthcare provider will determine the best treatment option for you based on your medical history and severity of the disease. Treatment options might include:
- Lifestyle changes – controlling blood pressure and cholesterol with diet and exercise; smoking/tobacco cessation; walking/exercise program to improve blood flow to the legs/feet
- Medication – can reduce the amount of plaque build up in the arteries
- Non-surgical and surgical procedures –
- Stent placement
- Arterial bypass
Many patients can reduce the effects of PVD by making several lifestyle changes, including smoking/tobacco cessation, diet/exercise, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some medications can also reduce the amount of build up in the arteries.
When controlling your risk factors is not enough, the Vascular Center of Excellence at St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana offers a variety of treatment options/procedures from some of the most experienced vascular specialists in the state of Indiana.