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peripheral vascular disease

Maintaining vascular (blood vessel) health is vital to your overall wellness. But your blood vessels could be in trouble without your even knowing it. That's because peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a "silent" condition that often has no symptoms. It reduces blood flow to the legs, due to narrowing of the arteries. If untreated, PVD can lead to serious health problems. It can even shorten your life.

Your Blood Vessels Could Be in Trouble

Most people with reduced blood flow to the legs don't even know they have a problem. That's because PVD often has no noticeable symptoms. PVD is most frequently caused by arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries. Cholesterol and other fatty substances build up on the lining of the arteries and form a substance known as plaque. As plaque increases, it reduces the flow of blood. This can result in severe leg pain and can make walking even short distances difficult. Blocked blood vessels also increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

How Do I Find Out If I Have PVD?

PVD is a common disease, but it doesn't have to be a fact of life. The good news is that a painless exam by a doctor on staff at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital can determine whether you have PVD or are at risk for developing PVD. Getting tested is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the effects of PVD from disrupting your life.

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Are You At Risk?

Anyone can get PVD, but certain characteristics, called risk factors, make developing the condition more likely. Check your risk factors below.

  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have diabetes?
  • Are you overweight?
  • Do you have high blood pressure?
  • Do you avoid exercise?
  • Do you have high cholesterol?
  • Are you over age 50?
  • Do you have a family history of cardiovascular disease

If you have two or more risk factors, ask your physician about PVD. The more risk factors you have, the more important it is to get tested for PVD.

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Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptom of PVD is painful cramping in the legs or hips, usually occurring while walking. This cramping occurs because there is not enough blood flowing to the leg muscles during exercise or movement. This blood shortage can happen without any noticeable symptoms.

Other symptoms of PVD include:

  • Numbness, tingling and/or weakness in the extremity
  • Burning or aching sensation in the feet or toes while resting
  • A wound or sore on the foot or toes that does not heal
  • Cold legs or feet
  • Skin color changes on the extremity
  • Hair loss on the extremity

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Diagnosing the Problem

Your doctor may use one or more tests to determine whether you have PVD. Some of these tests are described below.

  • Ankle Brachial Index (ABI)

The ABI is a simple, noninvasive test. A blood pressure cuff is used to measure the pressure in your ankle and the pressure in your arm. By comparing the two, your doctor can get a good idea of the level of blood flow to your legs.

  • Ultrasound Doppler Test

This noninvasive test uses sound waves to valuate blood flow in the legs. With this test, your doctor can determine if a specific artery has plaque buildup.

  • Angiogram

Before your doctor makes a final diagnosis, you may be asked to undergo an angiogram. In this test, a special dye is injected into the arteries and x-rays are taken. The x-rays show any narrowed or blocked arteries.

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Treatment Options

Treatment options are dependent upon your overall health and the severity of your condition. While some of the contributors to PVD cannot be changed, many cases of PVD can be treated and managed with lifestyle adjustments.

Changes include:

  • Following a health, low-fat diet
  • Losing weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Quitting smoking

Your physician may also prescribe medications to control high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduce plaque build-up and reduce pain when walking and exercising.

For conditions that cannot be treated through lifestyle changes and/or medication, your physician may recommend medical or surgical treatment options, such as angioplasty or bypass surgery, performed by: a vascular specialist, an interventional radiologist, interventional cardiologist, cardiac surgeon or vascular surgeon. Find out more about these physicians at Good Shepherd Hospital.

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Medical and surgical treatments include:

  • Angioplasty

This procedure involves the insertion of a thin tube called a catheter into the blood vessel through a small incision in the skin. Using X-ray as a guide, the catheter is threaded to the site of the blockage and a small balloon, which is attached to the catheter, is inflated. This opens the blockage and in some cases, a small wire mesh called a stent is inserted to keep the artery open at the site. This procedure usually does not require hospitalization.

  • Thrombolytic Therapy

If the blockage is caused by a blood clot, a vascular specialist again uses a catheter to reach the site of the blockage and injects thrombolytic drugs to dissolve the clot and open the blood vessel. This treatment may also be combined with other treatments such as angioplasty.

  • Bypass Graft

Your physician may recommend a bypass graft which involves taking a vein from another part of the body or using a graft made from synthetic material, to create a detour around the blocked artery. This surgical procedure is performed by a vascular surgeon and requires hospitalization.

  • Carotid Endarterectomy

To reduce the risk of stroke, carotid endarterectomy is performed when this artery in the neck is narrowed by plaque or when there have been mini strokes. During surgery, the artery is opened, the cholesterol plaque lining the vessel is scraped out, and the artery is repaired. In some patients, it may be possible to do this through the groin using the angioplasty procedure explained above.

Taking Charge

With proper diagnosis and treatment, you can look forward to increased activity and improved health. But it all depends on early diagnosis. If you're at risk, ask about a screening test today. Good Shepherd Hospital offers comprehensive diagnostic services and the expertise of skilled vascular specialists.

Print a Brochure

Click here to print a pdf copy of our peripeheral vascular disease brochure.

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