What is peripheral vascular disease?
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a blood circulation disorder that causes the blood vessels outside of your heart and brain to narrow, block, or spasm. This can happen in your arteries or veins. PVD typically causes pain and fatigue, often in your legs, and especially during exercise. The pain usually improves with rest.
It can also affect the vessels that supply blood and oxygen to your:
stomach and intestines
In PVD, blood vessels become narrowed and blood flow decreases. This can be due to arteriosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries,” or it can be caused by blood vessel spasms. In arteriosclerosis, plaques build up in a vessel and limit the flow of blood and oxygen to your organs and limbs.
As plaque growth progresses, clots may develop and completely block the artery. This can lead to organ damage and loss of fingers, toes, or limbs, if left untreated.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) develops only in the arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart. According to the CDC, approximately 12 to 20 percent of people over age 60 develop PAD, about 8.5 million people in the United States. PAD is the most common form of PVD, so the terms are often used to mean the same condition.
PVD is also known as:
arterial insufficiency of the legs
Blocked blood flow to your legs can cause pain and numbness. It also can raise your risk of getting an infection in the affected limbs. Your body may have a hard time fighting the infection.
If severe enough, blocked blood flow can cause gangrene (tissue death). In very serious cases, this can lead to leg amputation.
If you have leg pain when you walk or climb stairs, talk with your doctor. Sometimes older people think that leg pain is just a symptom of aging. However, the cause of the pain could be P.A.D. Tell your doctor if you're feeling pain in your legs and discuss whether you should be tested for P.A.D.
Smoking is the main risk factor for P.A.D. If you smoke or have a history of smoking, your risk of P.A.D. increases. Other factors, such as age and having certain diseases or conditions, also increase your risk of P.A.D.
P.A.D. increases your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attack ("mini-stroke"). Although P.A.D. is serious, it's treatable. If you have the disease, see your doctor regularly and treat the underlying atherosclerosis. P.A.D. treatment may slow or stop disease progress and reduce the risk of complications. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines, and surgery or procedures. Researchers continue to explore new therapies for P.A.D.