Many people know that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of American men and women. But far fewer understand that the same factors that contribute to heart disease can also cause Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD). PVD can affect any of the 60,000 miles of veins, arteries and capillaries in the human body, leading to chronic pain, stroke and even loss of limb.
What it is
PVD is a narrowing of blood vessels that restricts blood flow. It mostly occurs in the legs, but is sometimes seen in the arms. PVD is a progressive disease that can lead to gangrene in the affected area. It may also occur suddenly from an embolism, or if a blot clot develops in a narrowed vessel, quickly cutting off blood flow.
Symptoms and risk factors
There are many causes of PVD. One major risk factor is smoking. Diseases such as diabetes also predispose patients to developing peripheral vascular disease.
PVD usually manifests itself as pain in the affected area. Early symptoms include an achy, tired sensation in the muscles. Since this disease is seen mainly in the legs, these sensations usually occur when walking, and they may disappear when resting. If the disease progresses, symptoms can occur all the time – even at rest. In severe disease the leg and foot may feel numb, and cold to the touch. The skin may become dry and scaly. Because of poor blood supply, even minor injuries don’t heal, and can become ulcers. In the worst cases, gangrene develops in those areas lacking blood supply. If an embolism rapidly blocks blood flow to a blood vessel, it can cause sharp pain, followed by a loss of sensation. The limb will become cold and numb, and lose color or turn bluish.
As with heart disease, a speedy diagnosis improves the chances that treatment will be easier and more successful. There are several ways to diagnose PVD:
- Ultrasound tests.
- Injecting dye into the vascular system to identify diseased vessels.
- Taking blood pressure readings above and below the point of pain.
Because heart disease and PVD are so similar, Aspirus Heart & Vascular physicians employ many of the same techniques and technologies to address these conditions – it’s the reason we offer integrated heart and vascular care. Balloon angioplasty and wire mesh stents can be used to open blockages throughout the vascular system. Sometimes doctors use special equipment with fine blades to shave out blockages, or use lasers to burn out narrowed vessels. Particularly difficult blockages, called total chronic occlusion, require the use of specialized catheters or lasers – sometimes both.
When disease progresses to the point that surgery is required, the Aspirus Heart & Vascular Institute surgeons provide leading procedures with outstanding outcomes. Whether it’s bypassing a blockage with native or man-made graft material, or opening up the diseased vessel and removing the plaque, our team focuses singularly on treating symptoms and restoring each patient’s quality of life.
Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, limiting fat and following a healthy diet, and managing your risk factors—such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure—can help to reduce the progression of the disease. One method of achieving these goals is to attend a special Rehabilitation Program designed by experts at the Aspirus Heart & Vascular Institute.