Peripheral Vascular Disease – Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

What Is PVD?

Peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, is a common disease. It is termed peripheral because it encompasses all the blood vessels in the body except those of the heart and brain. National Institutes of Health statistics cite one in 20 Americans age 50 and older have PVD, and for those age 65 or older, the ratio increases. PVD has additional labels:

  • Peripheral arterial disease – PAD – when it affects only the arteries.
  • Arteriosclerosis obliterans – narrowing of the abdominal artery and medium- to small-sized arteries in the lower extremities.

What Causes Peripheral Vascular Disease?

When an artery becomes blocked for any reason, blood can no longer reach tissue to supply essential nutrients and oxygen. This can happen for a number of reasons, but the most common one is age, and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is also a culprit.

Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis is the result of years of fat and cholesterol flowing through arteries and attaching themselves to the inner arterial walls to form plaque. Over the years, the plaque continues to build, thickening and hardening the arterial wall and narrowing blood flow. Sometimes bits of the plaque break off and drift until they lodge in a blood vessel. The result is often a clot that can cut off blood supply or cause a stroke or heart attack.

Injuries and Infections: Especially for individuals already at risk for PVD, even simple injuries can develop into ulcers or wounds that refuse to heal. Conditions like cellulitis, with its extreme inflammation and swelling, can permanently damage blood vessels and cause or contribute to such decreased blood flow that medical intervention is essential.

Who Is at Risk?

Certain factors do put individuals at risk. Some are more controllable than others:

  • Abnormal cholesterol.
  • Diabetes mellitus, or type 1 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart disease.
  • Kidney disease or hemodialysis.
  • Family history of the above.
  • Stroke.
  • Excessive weight.
  • Sedentary, inactive lifestyle.
  • Smoking.

What Are the Symptoms?

In mild or onset cases of PVD, individuals may notice only occasional tingling, burning or cramping in the toes or lower leg while walking or exercising. Often patients figure it is simply part of the aches and pains of aging because the pain subsides with rest. Over time, however, the cramping can become painful and bring with it persistent aches and fatigue. Serious peripheral vascular disease symptoms often include:

  • Painful cramping in the feet or legs even when a body is at rest.
  • Numb, heavy, tight or fatigued leg muscles.
  • Weak pulse in one or both legs or feet.
  • Buttock pain or cramping.
  • Wounds, infections or ulcers on legs or feet that refuse to heal.
  • Impotence.
  • Discoloration in one or both legs or feet. Colors can range from ashy paleness to blue to deep reddish-blue.
  • Thin, shiny, hairless skin on legs.
  • Thick, opaque toenails.
  • Stroke or heart attack.
  • Gangrene.

MIIGS – Offering Gentle Solutions for Life-Threatening Problems

No one should have crippling leg cramps, cut short a leisurely walk, or live with the frustration and hopelessness of treating a wound that just refuses to heal. Patients or individuals with loved ones who are experiencing peripheral vascular disease symptoms and their myriad complications are always welcome at MIIGS. To schedule a consultation at our center in Alexandria, contact us at 313.445.9700, or submit an online contact form. In the meantime, tour our website and get to know the doctors and specialists who make MIIGS a leader in peripheral vascular disease treatment.