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What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?


Our heart is perhaps one of the most vital organs in the human body, in charge of delivering blood throughout the body. By providing blood, the organ nourishes the body with rich oxygenated blood and transports carbon dioxide into the lungs and out of the body.

The heart pumps blood through a system of blood vessels called the circular system, also known as the cardiovascular or vascular system. This organ system circulates blood vessels, which contain nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hormones, and blood cells to and from the cells in our body.

This process provides nutrients, helps the body fight disease, and helps maintain your body. Vessels are elastic tubes that deliver blood to every part of the body. Arteries transport blood out from the heart while veins bring it back.

As we age, blood flow to our extremities, especially the lower extremities, is not as efficient for various reasons, such as plaque buildup that will induce and cause various diseases. Peripheral vascular disease includes any condition that affects the circulatory system.

Varicose Veins

Vascular disease, also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), ranges from veins, arteries, and lymphatic vessel diseases to blood disorders that affect circulation. In addition, PVD is a condition that makes blood vessels outside the brain and heart become blocked, spasm, or narrow.

This disorder of blood circulation can occur in the veins or arteries.

Generally, vascular disease can often cause fatigue and pain. The pain usually accumulates in the legs, especially when exercising or actively on the legs while walking or working. However, the pain may subside after rest.

Nevertheless, the peripheral vascular disease does not only affects the legs. The condition can also affect the blood vessels responsible for supplying oxygen to various body parts. These include blood vessels in the intestines, stomach, kidneys, and arms.

Patients suffering from PVD experience a narrowing of the blood vessels, which decreases blood flow to specific areas of the body, particularly in the lower extremities; the hardening of the arteries, also known as arteriosclerosis, can be the cause of this situation. In some cases, spasms of the blood vessels can also cause peripheral vascular disease.

In the case of atherosclerosis (a specific type of arteriosclerosis), plaques build up in the blood vessel and decrease the blood rich with oxygen flow to the extremities and other organs. When not managed in time, plaque buildup continues and can lead to blood clots, which could block arteries completely.

As a result, this blockage can lead to organ damage and the loss of toes, fingers, and limbs. This consequence highlights the importance of getting treatment for a vascular disease as soon as possible. The longer the patient waits, the more adverse the effects can be.

Some people sometimes refer vascular disease as peripheral arterial disease, so you can often interchangeably use the two terms. However, the critical difference between these two terms: peripheral vascular disease and peripheral arterial disease, is that the latter only affects the arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood to various organs from the heart.

The Center for Disease Controls statistics reveals that about twenty percent of people develop peripheral artery disease. Therefore, PAD is the most common condition of peripheral vascular disease.

Notwithstanding, other terms to define this condition include claudication (arterial insufficiency of the legs), intermittent claudication, arteriosclerosis obliterans, and non-healing ulcers.


Causes of Peripheral Vascular Disease

Let’s take a look next at what causes PVD. Different factors cause organic and functional peripheral vascular diseases, so we will examine them separately.

Organic PVD is a disorder in which the blood vessel’s structure changes physically. Its leading causes include high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Some other potential causes of organic peripheral vascular disease include inflammation of blood vessels, infection, extreme injuries, and ligaments or muscles with abnormal structures.

The blood vessels in the body naturally narrow and widen in response to the environment. Some of the most common causes of this disorder include cold temperatures, emotional stress, drugs, and operating vibrating machinery or tools.

However, when a person has functional PVD, these responses are exaggerated. For example, Raynaud’s disease is a functional-peripheral vascular disease where temperatures and stress impact blood flow. In Raynaud’s disease, the smaller arteries that provide blood to the skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to the affected areas.

Several factors can put a person at a higher risk of PVD, which include obesity or being overweight, pregnancy, over fifty years old, with a family history of PVD, a history of stroke or cerebrovascular disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

Also, having heart disease, abnormal cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, hemodialysis, or kidney disease, may put the patient at risk.

Specific lifestyle choices can also increase an individual’s risk of developing peripheral vascular disease. These include smoking, drug use, poor eating habits, and lack of physical exercise.

Symptoms of Peripheral Vascular Disease

The initial signs of PVD usually appear irregular and slow, and then they become more intense over time and the lack of medical intervention can lead to more serious symptoms. At first, a person may feel more tired than usual and experience cramping. The pain usually worsens with physical activity due to constrictions of blood flow.

Not everyone who has PVD experiences symptoms. About half of the patients receiving this diagnosis do not experience symptoms. In addition, some other symptoms related to peripheral vascular disease differ according to the areas affected.

Some of the specific symptoms include experiencing leg cramps when lying down and reduced hair growth, leg and arms discoloration and turning pale or reddish-blue, feeling legs and feet with weak pulses, pale and thin skin, chronic ulcers, and sores. Also, symptoms like severe burning sensation, thickened and dull toenails, and general blue discoloration in the toes area may appear.

In case of experiencing any of these symptoms, it is essential to seek medical intervention. Unfortunately, due to old age, people neglect most of these symptoms. However, delaying care and attention will only worsen the situation; in extreme cases, you can get gangrene and blood loss.

The other common symptom associated with vascular disease is claudication. This symptom is distinguishable muscle pain in the lower extremities, especially when walking. Sometimes, the pain may intensify when you walk for a long time and fast. However, after some time or rest, the pain may go away or gradually reduce.

Claudication occurs when there is not enough blood flow to the muscle. As the vascular disease progresses, symptoms may worsen and become more frequent. Eventually, fatigue and pain may become more common, even when resting.

If you experience any of these symptoms, get the opinion of a vascular surgeon or specialist and get appropriate treatment to reduce pain and improve blood flow.

Complications of Vascular Disease

If the peripheral vascular disease is left untreated or neglected, it can severe and, in some cases, life-threatening. In addition, restricted blood flow to the body can be a warning of the strict progression of vascular disease.

Some of the significant health complications of PVD include pale skin, tissue death that can lead to amputation, pain with movement and rest, chronic open wounds, severe pain that makes walking difficult, and life-threatening toxicities in the bloodstream and bones.

In severe complications affecting the arteries that carry blood to the brain and heart, the arteries can become clogged, leading to stroke, heart attack, and even death.

Peripheral Vascular Disease Diagnosis

Early diagnosis of PVD is the first step to effective treatment. In addition, early detection and management can help prevent life-threatening complications. Inform your physician immediately if you begin to experience any symptoms typical of vascular diseases, such as claudication.

The health care professional may enquire about your medical history for a proper diagnosis before performing any physical examination. Usually, the physical test includes measuring pulses in the extremities. For example, if there is a swooshing sound after a stethoscope search, it likely means you have certain narrowed vessels.

In addition, to obtain specific results, doctors may order other tests, such as a doppler ultrasound to monitor blood flow in the vessels and an angiogram to diagnose any blocked arteries. Also, a CT scan to show images of blood vessels and diagnose a blockage, and an ankle-brachial index to compare the blood flow of various extremities.


Treating Peripheral Vascular Disease

There are two main goals when considering treatment of PVD: stopping disease progression and controlling symptoms and pain so you can be active. In addition, the treatment of PVD significantly reduces the risk of serious complications.

Lifestyle changes are essential for the initial treatment of PVD. For example, your doctor may recommend regular exercise, weight loss, and a proper diet. In addition, if you smoke tobacco, you should stop smoking, as it directly reduces blood flow. Unfortunately, smoking also worsens PVD and could lead to stroke and heart attack.

If the first course of treatment fails or the PVD has already advanced, the physician may suggest medication.

Treatment options may include surgery or angioplasty in cases with a significant arterial blockage. Surgery helps to open the blocked arteries and get the blood flowing efficiently.

Everybody deserves to live a long and happy life, but PVD can lead to limb loss and other life-threatening conditions. We use state-of-the-art tools and technology to deal with all of your problems related to your vascular system. With our expertise, we work with you to develop a unique solution that fits your needs.

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Modern Heart and Vascular, a preventive cardiology medical practice, has several offices around Houston. We have locations in Humble, Cleveland, The Woodlands, Katy, and Livingston.

We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice.

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At the Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, we offer state-of-the-art cardiovascular care with innovative diagnostic tools and compassionate patient care. Our priority at Modern Heart and Vascular Institute is prevention. We help patients lead healthier lives by avoiding unnecessary procedures and surgeries.

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This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.

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