Peripheral Vascular Disease

Your Care Explained > Conditions and Diagnoses : 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:

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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:

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:

Nutrition and Prevention

Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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