Could it be Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Interventional Cardiologist, Dr. Stephen Tann
Interventional Cardiologist, Dr. Stephen Tann

Dr. Stephen Tann, Interventional Cardiologist at Carson Tahoe Cardiology took a minute to answer some popular questions regarding Peripheral Vascular Disease.

What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

In simple terms, peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is the condition of blocked arteries in the periphery of the body. This is a pretty broad term, but the ‘periphery’ is essentially any part of the body beyond its core, which for vascular purposes really just means the heart. The term PVD would be used to describe atherosclerotic disease (ie blockages) in the arteries that go to the arms, arteries that carry blood to the brain, large arteries in the abdomen and pelvis, arteries that go to the kidneys and digestive system, and arteries that go to the legs. Most commonly, however, PVD usually involves blockages in arteries that go to the legs.

What symptoms are associated with Peripheral Vascular Disease?

The symptoms will depend on the location of the PVD, but since PVD most commonly involves problems with blood flow to the legs, the most common symptom is unusual pain, cramping, or heaviness in the muscles of the hips and/or legs that occurs with walking, and goes away with rest.  If PVD is severe, people will see evidence of poor blood flow even at rest, like numbness and pain in the legs and feet. A particularly serious sign is if there are sores or wounds in the legs or feet that will not heal. This is a sign of what is called critical limb ischemia and generally calls for urgent intervention to avoid tissue loss, potential serious infection, and even amputation.

How is Peripheral Vascular Disease diagnosed?

PVD can usually be diagnosed with a good history and any physical examination performed by a physician or practitioner who is familiar with vascular problems. The diagnosis can be confirmed with simple non-invasive studies that involve measuring pressures in the arms and legs, as well as taking ultrasound images of blood flow. More involved studies such as CT scans and angiography are used to plan and facilitate interventional treatment.

What treatments are available for Peripheral Vascular Disease?

The mainstay of treatment for PVD is regular exercise, which enhances blood flow to and around the blocked arteries. Medical treatments do help in stabilizing the blockages, and in keeping them from growing or rupturing. However, once PVD has gotten to the point of producing symptoms, most times the blockages will need to be treated by interventional means, either by opening them from the inside – usually using angioplasty and stents, or via surgical treatments.

What are some examples of lifestyle changes that can be made for those diagnosed with Peripheral Vascular Disease?

The primary lifestyle changes that are absolutely necessary for people with PVD are cessation of smoking, and regular exercise. Ongoing smoking will all but guarantee the progression of PVD, and will decrease the chances of long term success for any type of interventional therapy. The increased blood flow to the limbs that is provided by regular exercise such as walking is what helps improve circulation to and around the blocked arteries, and is the best-proven therapy to alleviate the symptoms of PVD. Control of other atherosclerotic risk factors (blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar for diabetics, etc) is also very important.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding Peripheral Vascular Disease, please contact your doctor. When in doubt, check it out.

Dr. Tann is a Board Certified Interventional Cardiologist at Carson Tahoe Cardiology.