Q. What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?
A. Peripheral vascular disease refers to disease or disorder of the circulatory system outside of the brain and heart. Just as the arteries near the heart may gradually become blocked or constricted by the build-up of fatty material, so can those in the arms, neck, trunk-and especially the legs. This decreased blood flow can cause pain or numbness, cold hands or feet, and a bluish discoloration.
Q. What causes PVD?
A. PVD is caused when the vessels that carry blood to the extremities (arms and legs) become blocked or narrowed. It is most commonly caused by atherosclerosis, which is when plaque builds up in the arterial wall, but it can also be caused by traumatic injuries to the extremities, infections, or deformities. PVD is also directly associated with coronary artery disease-most people who are diagnosed with PVD also have coronary artery disease.
Q. Who gets PVD?
A. Risk factors for PVD include heart disease, type 1 diabetes, a history of high cholesterol or hypertension, obesity, physical inactivity, age (particularly 50 years of age and older) and smoking.
Q. What are signs and symptoms of PVD?
A. Leg pain, especially after exercise such as walking that stops when the activity stops, can be a sign of PVD. Because the muscles need more blood and oxygen during exercise, pain then becomes more prominent. This pain is indicative that blood is not flowing through freely enough due to blockages. If PVD is left untreated, it can lead to more, and possibly permanent, pain, blood clots or even gangrene. Those with PVD may also experience hair loss in the leg area, changes in the skin on the legs and feet, muscle numbness, impotence, and thick, opaque toenails.
Q. How is PVD treated?
A. Sometimes simple life changes can help treat PVD. For starters, stop smoking. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can also help clear the plaque from the veins and lead to proper blood flow. Your doctor may also prescribe certain medications, such as blood thinners, or may recommend angioplasty or vascular surgery if indicated.
Q. Can PVD be prevented?
A. To avoid peripheral vascular disease: Quit smoking and avoid second hand smoke; maintain a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean protein, avoiding foods with excess amounts of fat, cholesterol and sugar; control other conditions that can lead to PVD, such as type 1 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension; minimize alcohol intake; include regular exercise; and maintain a healthy weight.