Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)

Who is at risk for PVD?

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD, also known as PAD) occurs when the vessels carrying blood to the lower body become narrow or blocked due to build up of plaque. This can reduce or stop blood flow, usually to the legs, causing them to hurt or feel numb. Blocked blood flow can result in muscle fatigue and pain when walking and lead to disability, diminished quality of life and even limb amputation.

In a healthy vessel, blood flows freely to the extremities keeping the leg tissue healthy. In a narrowed vessel, plaque build up reduces the blood flow and the tissue does not get enough oxygen-rich blood. This may lead to cramping of the legs. A blocked vessel means there is so much plaque that blood cannot flow at all. Tissue begins to die and muscles may cramp during activity and at rest.

How common is PVD?

About eight million people are affected by PVD.

What are the signs and symptoms of PVD?

  • Leg pain, weakness or numbness
  • Cold legs or feet
  • Ulcers on toes, feet or legs that will not heal
  • Change in color of legs
  • Hair loss on feet or toes
  • Changes in toenails

Who’s at risk for PVD?

  • Cigarette smokers
  • Those age 50 or older
  • Diabetics
  • Those who are hypertensive or have a family history of hypertension
  • Those who have high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels
  • Those who are obese

What type of testing is available for detecting PVD?

Several types of testing are available depending on your individual symptoms or interest:

  • Ankle-Brachial Indices (ABI)
  • Pulse Volume Recordings (PVR)
  • Arterial Stress Testing
  • Digital testing/Raynaud’s
  • Upper extremities can be tested for PVD as well as legs. Other tests can be performed, such as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

For most people, PVD can be treated through lifestyle changes and medication. For more information on PVD testing and treatments through the Division of Interventional Radiology, please call 877-337-8847.

What can be done to treat PVD when lifestyle changes and medications are not enough?

There are a number of ways that physicians can open blood vessels at the site of blockages and restore normal blood flow. In many cases, these procedures can be performed without surgery using modern, interventional radiology techniques. Interventional radiologists are physicians who use tiny tubes called catheters and other miniaturized tools and X-rays to do these procedures.

Procedures performed by interventional radiologists include:

  • Angioplasty - a balloon is inflated to open the blood vessel.
  • Thrombolytic therapy - clot-busting drugs are delivered to the site of blockages caused by blood clots.
  • Stents - a tiny metal cylinder, or stent, is inserted in the clogged vessel to act like a scaffolding and hold it open.
  • Stent-grafts - a stent covered with synthetic fabric is inserted into the blood vessels to bypass diseased arteries.

Sometimes, open surgery is required to remove blockages from arteries or to bypass the clogged area. These procedures are performed by vascular surgeons.

Portions of this page - reprinted with permission of the Society of Interventional Radiology (c) 2004, 2008; . All rights reserved.

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