Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)

What is it?

Peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, refers to disease of the blood vessels (arteries and veins) located outside the heart and brain. PVD is commonly referred to as peripheral artery disease, a condition that develops when the arteries that supply blood to the internal organs, arms, and legs become completely or partially blocked as a result of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis). The disease most commonly impacts the legs and feet.

Peripheral vascular disease is a chronic condition that can be treated, but not cured.


  • Intermittent aching, heaviness, cramping or weakness in the buttocks, legs or calves; often occurs while walking or exercising yet disappears with rest (claudication).
  • Leg numbness or weakness.
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot.
  • Sores, wounds, ulcers on your legs that won’t heal.
  • Change in color or shiny skin on your legs.
  • No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet.
  • In men, erectile dysfunction.

Risk factors

  • Current smoking or smoking history.
  • Diabetes.
  • Age; especially if you’re older than 50.
  • High cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure.
  • History of heart disease.
  • Obesity; generally defined as a body mass index (BMI) over 30.

Diagnosing PVD

  • Complete medical history and physical examination.
  • Ankle-brachial index: This commonly used, non-invasive test compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm.
  • Doppler ultrasound: This procedure evaluates blood flow through your blood vessels to identify blocked or narrowed arteries.
  • Angiogram: By injecting contrast dye into your blood vessels, this test allows your doctor to view blood flow through your arteries.

Treating PVD

  • Control symptoms to prevent disease progression.
  • Lower your risk by not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and being active.
  • Management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol.
  • Supervised exercise therapy through cardiac rehabilitation.
  • Medications to:
    • Improve blood flow.
    • Slow your heart rate.
    • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Procedures to restore blood flow.
    • Endovascular procedures which are minimally-invasive and use catheters.
    • Surgical procedures in which the patient’s chest is surgically opened such as bypass or CABG.