FAQ Peripheral Vascular Disease


FAQ Peripheral Vascular Disease

What is peripheral vascular disease?

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD also known as peripheral arterial disease or PAD) can refer to diseases of the circulation other than in the heart, such as the blood vessels (arteries) in the neck and brain, lower and upper extremities, and the abdomen.  The disease is very similar to the kind of disease present in coronary artery disease (CAD) with respect to blood clots and cholesterol/calcium plaque buildup in the vessels.

 Who is at risk for peripheral vascular disease?

Anyone with cardiac risk factors also has risk factors for PVD.  A detailed analysis of symptoms can help determine if you need testing or treatment for PVD.  Smokers and patients with diabetes are at especially high risk for PVD, but anyone with coronary artery disease risk factors can also be at risk for PVD.

How do you diagnose peripheral vascular disease?

PVD can be diagnosed easily with painless, safe ultrasound testing of the neck, legs, arms or abdomen.  Other more extensive testing may be necessary if abnormalities are found on ultrasound.

How do you treat peripheral vascular disease?

PVD can be treated with anything from physical therapy/exercise to medications to surgical procedures to restore blood flow in blocked arteries, depending on the severity and location.

What are some of the symptoms of peripheral vascular disease?

Often, PVD or circulation problems in the lower extremities presents as pain, numbness, coldness or color change of the skin of the legs and feet.  The pain is often worsened with exercise or activity, which is called claudication.  It may also present as ulcers on the skin that are not healing properly or not healing at all.  It is important to look out for these symptoms and inform your doctor because untreated PVD can lead to life-threatening infections or the loss of your limbs through amputation.

What is carotid artery disease?

Carotid artery disease is a type of PVD that involves the arteries of the neck that supply the brain.  It is an important cause of stroke, and can be diagnosed in the same way as other PVD using ultrasound screening.  It is also treated in a similar way to other types of PVD with medications or surgery.

 Are there any other kinds of peripheral vascular disease that are important to note?

Another common and often overlooked part of PVD is disease of the abdominal aorta.  This can lead to blocked arterial blood flow or aneurysms that are life-threatening because of the risk for rupture.  Routine screening can help detect such PVD to intervene with treatment early on.

What about disease of my veins, such as varicose veins?

Varicose veins are a type of vascular disease involving the veins of the extremities rather than the arteries.  The arteries supply blood to the tissues and the veins bring blood back to the heart.  Venous disease can include varicose veins, which are enlarged superficial veins in the skin.  It can also include blood clots in the deeper veins or problems with the valves in the veins that prevent blood from flowing backwards.  Disorders of the veins can present with leg swelling, pain, or changes in skin color.  They are diagnosed in the same way that PVD is diagnosed using ultrasound as an initial screening examination.  Treatment options are very extensive and include supportive care, lifestyle modifications and surgical therapies.