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What Is Peripheral Vascular Disease?
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) refers to
(PAD) is a type of organic PVD. It’s caused by
diseases of blood vessels outside the heart and
fatty buildups (atherosclerosis) in the inner wal s
brain. It’s often a narrowing of vessels that carry
of arteries; these deposits block normal blood flow.
blood to the legs, arms, stomach or kidneys.
There are two types of these circulation disorders:
peripheral vascular diseases don’t
have an organic cause. That means they don’t
involve defects in blood vessels’ structure. (The blood vessels aren’t physically damaged in some way.) These diseases often have
and go. Raynaud’s disease is an example. In
Raynaud’s disease, restricted circulation can
be triggered by cold temperatures, emotional
stress, working with vibrating machinery
peripheral vascular diseases are
caused by structural changes in the blood vessels. Examples could include inflammation
and tissue damage. Peripheral artery disease
Is peripheral artery disease dangerous?
Yes. PAD is a condition similar to coronary artery
kidneys, stomach, arms, legs and feet. Left
disease and carotid artery disease. (Coronary
artery disease is the name for fatty buildups in
amputation of limbs. People with PAD often have
the arteries that supply the heart muscle with
fatty buildups in the arteries of the heart and
blood and nourishment. Carotid artery disease is
brain, but PAD may be their first sign. Most
the name for fatty buildups in the neck artery that
people with PAD have a higher risk of death from
stroke and heart attack. If a blood clot forms and
In PAD, fatty deposits build up in the inner lining
blocks a narrowed artery to the heart, a heart
of artery wal s. These blockages restrict blood
attack results. If the clot blocks an artery to the
circulation, mainly in arteries leading to the
What are the symptoms?
In its early stages, common symptoms of poor
Symptoms of poor kidney circulation include
leg circulation are cramping, fatigue, heaviness,
sudden high blood pressure, or blood pressure
pain or discomfort in the legs and buttocks during that is hard or impossible to control with activity. This usual y subsides when the activity
medications. Severe blockage of the kidney
stops. It’s cal ed “intermittent claudication”.
arteries may result in loss of kidney function or failure.
What Is Peripheral Vascular Disease? (continued)
How is PAD diagnosed?
Diagnosing PAD begins with a medical history
• Doppler and duplex ultrasound imaging
and physical exam. In the exam, your doctor can
do a simple test cal ed the ABI (ankle brachial index). After that, other tests may be done.
How is PAD treated?
Most people with PAD can be treated with lifestyle Lifestyle modifications (including an exercise
changes, medicines or both. Lifestyle changes to
program) usual y improve symptoms or keep
them from getting worse. In a minority of patients,
• Stop smoking. (Smokers are 2 to 25 times more
lifestyle changes alone aren’t sufficient. Then
likely to get PAD and experience symptoms of
angioplasty or surgery may be needed.
Angioplasty is a non-surgical procedure that
widens narrowed or blocked arteries. A thin tube cal ed a catheter with a deflated bal oon on its
tip is passed into the narrowed artery segment.
• Be physical y active (including a supervised
Then the bal oon is inflated. This pushes open the
narrowed segment. Then the bal oon is deflated
• Eat a low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol diet
PAD may require drug treatment, including:
Often a stent — a wire mesh tube — is placed in
- Medicines (cilostazol and pentoxifyl ine) to
the narrowed artery with a catheter. There the
stent expands and locks open. It stays in that spot, keeping the diseased artery open.
- Antiplatelet agents to keep the platelets from
sticking together and triggering a blood clot
If a long part of an artery is narrowed, surgery may be needed. A vein from another part of the
body or a synthetic blood vessel is attached above and below the blocked area to detour blood around the blocked spot.
How can I learn more?
1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other health-care
professionals. If you have heart disease or
have had a stroke, members of your family also
may be at higher risk. It’s very important for
them to make changes now to lower their risk.
healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage
or visit americanheart.org to learn more
Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live
Do you have questions or comments for your doctor?
Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:
Should I be checked for PVD?
Your contribution to the American Heart Association supports research that helps make publications like this possible.
The statistics in this sheet were up to date at publication. For the latest statistics, see the Heart Disease and Stroke
Statistics Update at americanheart.org/statistics.
2007, American Heart Association 10/07LS1466
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