When blockages in the arteries occur that restrict blood flow to the limbs of your body, the condition is known as lower extremity peripheral vascular disease, or simply peripheral vascular disease (PVD). Atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of arteries which impacts efficiency of blood flow, is the root cause of artery blockages. Since it develops progressively over time, patients don't show signs of the common symptoms for a few months or even up to a year. PVD is brought on by the following factors:
The area where this condition is most common is called peripheral arterial disease (PAD) of the legs. Similar to PVD, it is caused by a buildup of plaque within the arteries, restricting the blood flow to your legs. The muscles and other tissues are then deprived of oxygen. PAD and PVD are often used interchangeably when describing this condition.
There are different levels of symptoms with varying severity that can occur when you have peripheral vascular disease/peripheral arterial disease. For example, you could have blocked arteries with no apparent symptoms, or blocked arteries with claudication, leg pain or cramping induced by exercise. In more severe cases, blocked arteries cause extreme pain in the feet and legs. Without proper treatment, the disease can impact the health of your limbs and lead to more debilitating symptoms with long-term effects.
The diagnosis process involves the following:
The symptoms of peripheral vascular disease can be improved by a series of lifestyle changes. These include exercise, healthy eating, weight loss and quitting smoking. Medications can also help symptoms by reducing any pain the disease causes, improving blood flow and lowering cholesterol. In more severe cases, there are two main surgery procedures recommended. Angioplasty and stenting is minimally invasive and allows for arteries to be opened with a balloon, and propped open with the placement of stent so blood can flow more efficiently. Bypass surgery is performed to create a new pathway that diverts blood flow around the blocked or narrowed artery.
When the veins in the legs are unable to pump the sufficient amount of blood back to the heart, a condition occurs called chronic venous insufficiency. As a result varicose veins develop, enlarged and twisted veins that appear blue or purple. Healthy veins are able to create blood flow from the limbs and back to the heart. Valves within the veins prevent a backwards flow of blood. Venous insufficiency occurs when these valves are damaged and cannot function properly. Although there aren’t any serious health risks associated from chronic venous insufficiency, there are some risk factors. These include:
The most common symptoms indicating that you have chronic venous insufficiency are as follows:
To confirm you have chronic venous insufficiency, the diagnosis process begins with a physical exam. A vascular surgeon will examine your varicose veins and measure the blood pressure in your legs for any irregularities. In order to confirm a diagnosis, a duplex ultrasound is performed to determine if your veins are functioning efficiently or if there are any signs of a blood clot. High-frequency sound waves bounce off cells and vessels, allowing doctors to look at an image of the structure of blood flow and blood vessels in your legs.
The severity of your chronic venous condition and your overall health will determine the treatment plan that is best for you. Each form of treatment is prescribed to decrease the severity of pain and prevent the development of other issues like venous ulcers.
Your primary care provider is an excellent resource if you experience any of the symptoms associated with peripheral vascular disease. The hospital’s network of community-based primary care facilities can provide initial assessment and care, while introducing you to the health network’s cardiology specialists who can help diagnose and treat a variety of conditions.