What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a condition where blood flow to the extremities is reduced or blocked. This is most often due to a buildup of fat (cholesterol and triglycerides) in the walls of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). This most often affects one or both legs.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of PVD that involves inflamed or damaged arteries. When one or more arteries is narrowed or blocked, the muscles cannot get enough blood and oxygen. That is why symptoms increase with muscular effort. People with PVD are at higher-than-normal risk for a heart attack and stroke.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, GET PROMPT MEDICAL ATTENTION:

  • Pain in the chest, arm, upper back, neck, jaw, or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Sudden severe headache (“worst headache of your life”)
  • Difficulty with speech or vision, weakness of an arm or leg
  • Confusion, difficulty walking, loss of balance
  • Sudden severe pain in the leg or foot
  • Sudden cold, pale or blue color to the leg or foot

What are the symptoms of peripheral vascular disease?

About half of patients with PVD do not have any symptoms. Those with symptoms usually complain of leg pain (one or both calves, thighs, hips) during exertion that gets better with rest. This is called intermittent claudication.

In more severe cases, the pain can occur even at rest (for example, at night when you are in bed). Other symptoms may include:

  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs
  • Burning or aching in the feet or toes

What could cause me to develop PVD?

Risk factors for developing PVD include:

  • Age over 50
  • Diabetes
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • High lipids (fats) in the blood
  • Inactive lifestyle

How is peripheral vascular disease treated?

Often you can successfully treat PVD yourself by doing the following:

  • If you smoke, quit smoking. This will lessen your symptoms and lower your chance that the disease will get worse. Join a stop-smoking program or talk to your doctor for assistance.
  • Engage in a physical activity (such as a brisk walk) for at least 30 minutes a day unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
  • Follow a low-fat diet and avoid foods high in cholesterol.
  • If you are overweight, talk to your doctor about weight-loss strategies.
  • Control high blood pressure.
  • If you have diabetes, make every effort to control your blood sugar. Ask your doctor to monitor your HbA1C level, which is a measure of how well your blood sugar is controlled. It should be below 7.0. High blood sugar over a long period of time will damage the blood vessels in the eyes, heart, brain, kidneys, and legs.
  • Trim your toenails regularly and watch for cuts, scrapes, or open sores on your feet. PVD increases risk of infection from these types of problems.

What if I need medical treatment?

Medical treatment of PVD may include:

  • Medications to lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, control blood sugar or prevent blood clots
  • Angioplasty, which is a procedure to open your affected artery using a small, hollow tube (catheter)
  • Bypass surgery to allow blood to flow around the blocked or narrowed artery