Peripheral Vascular Disease: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Peripheral vascular disease also known as peripheral artery disease is progressive disorder of blood circulation. In this condition the arteries supplying blood to the peripheral part of body mainly the legs become narrow. As a result blood flow is reduced in the limbs.

Patient may develop symptoms such as leg cramps, cold legs, non healing ulcers, etc. PVD is common in elderly individuals. Narrowing and occlusion occurs due to atherosclerosis in the blood vessel. Smoking, diabetes, elderly age etc are the main triggers. Peripheral vascular disease can be treated by medications and change in lifestyle.

Causes Of Peripheral Vascular Diseases

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is usually caused due to atherosclerotic changes in the blood vessels of the limbs. Atherosclerosis is accumulation of fat in the blood vessel. It ultimately forms a plaque consisting of cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the blood. Plaque occludes and narrows the blood vessel of legs. As a result the extremities receive poor blood supply and oxygen. It is common in elderly individuals.

Peripheral vascular disease can also affect veins due to deep vein thrombosis. Functional as well as organic causes both can develop PVD.

Functional causes are limited for a short interval, while organic causes cause damage to the internal structure of blood vessel. Classical example of functional PVD is exposure to severe cold climate. The blood vessels in leg contract for some time due to cold, leading to restriction of blood flow.

Person undergoing emotional stress may also develop peripheral vascular disease. Organic causes damage the blood vessel from inside. Atherosclerosis, smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol slowly narrow the blood vessel of lower legs. Sometimes leg injury, infection in leg, coronary artery disease can also produce PVD.

Risk factors for peripheral vascular disease are:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension
  • Overweight
  • Living sedentary life

Symptoms Of Peripheral Vascular Diseases

Many patients suffering from peripheral vascular disease are asymptomatic for a long period of time. Symptoms usually develop in the leg muscles. Cramp and pain in calf muscle is one of the earliest symptoms of PVD. Person may also have accompanying burning and tingling in the legs.

Pain typically occurs when person is walking. Pain alleviates after rest. Leg cramps intensify with walking fast or for a long distance. It reduces with rest. This condition is called intermittent claudication. It occurs due to less blood circulation. Leg cramps gradually occur even when patient is at rest as the PVD advances. Other symptoms include:

  • Cold feet and leg.
  • Absence of pulse in leg.
  • Shiny skin.
  • Non healing ulcers in leg.
  • Loss of hair in feet.
  • Burning in toes and foot.
  • Changes in toenail. They become hard and brittle.
  • Toes become blue due to gangrene.

Treatment Options For Peripheral Vascular Diseases

Treatment of peripheral vascular disease consists of lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery in severe condition.

  • Lifestyle changes play an important role in reversing symptoms back to normal. It includes complete cessation of smoking, strict control of diabetes, exercising regularly, reducing weight, and control of hypertension by limiting salt intake.
  • Obese patients should reduce their weight. Eating healthy food such as green vegetables, cereals, and fruits helps in reducing high lipids along with exercise.
  • Blood thinning agents and drugs that control cholesterol are also prescribed by the doctor.
  • In severe cases percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA) is performed to allow free flow of blood to the affected area of limb.