What is peripheral vascular disease?
Peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, refers to disease of the blood vessels (arteries and veins) located outside the heart and brain. PVD is often 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.
Because PVD is a circulatory disease, its risk factors are very similar to other diseases of the cardiovascular system:
- Smoking is the main risk factor. Your risk increases if you currently smoke or have a history of smoking.
- Age; especially if you are older than 50.
- High cholesterol.
- High blood pressure.
- History of heart disease.
- Obesity; generally defined as a body mass index over 30.
Signs and symptoms of peripheral vascular disease
Approximately half of all PVD patients don’t experience symptoms. The most common symptom is claudication – an intermittent aching, heaviness, cramping or weakness in the buttocks, legs or calves. It occurs while walking or exercising, yet disappears with rest.
Other PVD symptoms are:
- Leg numbness or weakness.
- Coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially compared to the other side.
- Sores/wounds/ulcers on your toes, feet or legs that won’t heal.
- A change in the color of your legs.
- Shiny skin on your legs.
- No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet.
- In men, erectile dysfunction.
Complications from decreased circulation can lead to open sores that do not heal, ulcers, gangrene, infections, or in extreme cases, amputation. PVD may also be a warning sign of other vascular diseases.
Diagnosis begins with a medical history and physical examination. Diagnostic procedures may include:
- 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. Your doctor can trace the dye by using X-ray, magnetic resonance angiography or by computerized tomography angiography. A conventional angiogram is an invasive procedure that involves guiding a catheter through an artery in your groin to the affected area and injecting the dye.
See our vascular specialists at these locations: