Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease is a slow and progressive circulation loss in the vessels that supply the legs or arms that occurs when blood vessels become too narrow to deliver adequate blood to the limbs.
Unfortunately, it’s a condition often overlooked in women because the symptoms—pain and muscle cramping during exercise—are attributed to aging or poor conditioning. African American women are at particular risk.
Causes of Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease is due to atherosclerosis—the same condition that sets the stage for coronary artery disease. In this case, the arteries of the legs are affected. The vessels become stiff and do not expand in response to the increased demand for blood flow that comes with exercise.
Risk Factors for Peripheral Vascular Disease
The factors that increase the risk of heart disease apply to peripheral vascular disease as well, including:
- Being over age 50
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- A personal history of vascular disease, heart attack or stroke
- Being African American. African Americans are more than twice as likely to have peripheral vascular disease as their white counterparts.
Symptoms of Peripheral Vascular Disease
The most common symptom is claudication—a combination of fatigue, heaviness, tiredness or cramping in the buttocks, thighs or calves while walking or climbing stairs that usually stops with rest. Reduced circulation can also lead to sores or wounds on toes, feet or legs that heal slowly, perpetually cold feet and slow toenail growth.
Diagnosing Peripheral Vascular Disease
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for peripheral vascular disease may include any, or a combination, of the following:
- Blood pressure measurements—A comparison of the blood pressure in the ankle with the blood pressure in the thigh, the knee area and the arm to determine if blood flow is constricted in specific places.
- Pulse volume recording (PVR) waveform analysis—A technique used to calculate blood volume changes in the legs using a recording device that displays the results as a waveform.
- Treadmill exercise test.
- Doppler ultrasound flow studies, which can indicate an obstruction in the blood flow.
- Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)—A noninvasive diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of a large magnet, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. An MRA is often used to examine the heart and other soft tissues and to assess blood flow.
Treating Peripheral Vascular Disease
As with heart disease, treatment begins with lifestyle modifications to control risk factors, including regular exercise, proper nutrition and quitting smoking, as well as medications to treat underlying conditions that aggravate peripheral vascular disease, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Medications may be used to improve blood flow and prevent blood clots from forming.
When medical therapy isn’t effective, many of the procedures that are used to treat coronary artery disease have been adapted for peripheral vascular disease, including:
- Balloon angioplasty with or without a stent.
- Atherectomy, in which the blocked area inside the artery is “shaved” away by a tiny device on the end of a catheter.
- Vascular surgery, in which a bypass graft using a blood vessel from another part of the body or a tube made of synthetic material is placed in the area of the blocked or narrowed artery to reroute the blood flow.
Nutrition and Prevention
Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Lifestyle Changes
- Healthy Diet
- Reduce Stress
- Stop Smoking
- Healthy Cholesterol Levels
- Reduce Sodium
Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011
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