Peripheral Vascular Disease (Peripheral Arterial Disease)
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD), also known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD), refers to diseases of any of the blood vessels outside of the heart and brain. PAD is a range of disorders that can affect the blood vessels in the legs, feet, arms, or hands, or body. PAD can include any vascular condition including aortic aneurysms.
The most common form of PAD is atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis is a gradual process in which cholesterol and scar tissue build up to form a substance called plaque that clogs the inside of the artery.
This buildup causes a gradual narrowing of the artery, which will decrease the amount of blood flow. When the flow of blood decreases, it results in a decrease of oxygen supply to the body's tissues, which in turn causes pain or ulceration. When the arteries to the legs are affected, the most common symptom is pain, weakness, or cramping in the thigh, calf, foot, hip, or buttock especially when walking. In addition, ulcers can form in the toes and feet.
There are some relatively simple tests that can be done to determine if the arterial blood flow in your legs is normal.
- Segmental pressure test - In this test, the blood pressure at several points in your arm or leg is checked using a blood pressure cuff and a Doppler. This will help determine if there is a difference in blood flow in the affected limb.
- Ultrasound scan - The scan produces images of arteries on a screen and is used to visualize the blood flow and locate blockages.
- Arteriogram - In this test, dye is injected into the arteries while X-rays are taken. The dye "lights up" the arteries, allowing the area of blockage to be accurately pinpointed.
The best treatment for PAD depends on a number of factors, including your overall health and the location, size and cause of the blockage. In some cases, lifestyle changes can be enough to slow the progress and manage PAD. Others will need intervention to restore the blood flow to their legs. For that reason, your physician may recommend seeing a doctor who specializes in this condition to discuss methods of rechanneling blood flow around the obstructed arteries. Most of these methods are minimally invasive and do not require surgery or an incision. Find a vascular surgeon to discuss PAD.