Interventional Radiology

Peripheral vascular disease

What is peripheral vascular disease (PVD)?

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a circulation disorder that causes narrowing, blockage, or spasms of blood vessels to parts of the body other than the brain and heart. This can occur in your arteries or veins.

It can also affect the vessels that supply blood and oxygen to your:

  • arms
  • stomach and intestines
  • kidneys

PVD typically causes pain and fatigue, often in your legs, and especially during exercise. The pain usually improves with rest.

In PVD, blood vessels become narrowed and blood flow decreases. This can be due to arteriosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries,” or it can be caused by blood vessel spasms. In arteriosclerosis, plaques build up in a vessel and limit the flow of blood and oxygen to your organs and limbs.

As plaque growth progresses, clots may develop and completely block the artery. This can lead to organ damage and loss of fingers, toes, or limbs, if left untreated.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) develops only in the arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart. 

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What are the symptoms?

For many people, the first signs of PVD begin slowly and irregularly. You may feel discomfort like fatigue and cramping in your legs and feet that gets worse with physical activity due to the lack of blood flow.

The most common symptom of PVD and peripheral artery disease (PAD) is claudication. Claudication is lower limb muscle pain when walking. You may notice the pain when you are walking faster or for long distances. It usually goes away after some rest. When the pain comes back, it may take the same amount of time to go away.

Claudication occurs when there’s not enough blood flow to the muscles you’re using. In PVD, the narrowed vessels can only supply a limited amount of blood. This causes more problems during activity than at rest.

As your PAD progresses, symptoms will occur more frequently and get worse. Eventually, you may even experience pain and fatigue during rest. 

What are the complications of PVD?

Complications from undiagnosed and untreated PVD can be serious and even life-threatening. Restricted blood flow of PVD can be a warning sign of other forms of vascular disease.

Complications of PVD can include:

  • tissue death, which can lead to limb amputation
  • impotence
  • pale skin
  • pain at rest and with movement
  • severe pain that restricts mobility
  • wounds that don’t heal
  • life-threatening infections of the bones and blood stream

The most serious complications involve the arteries bringing blood to the heart and brain. When these become clogged, it can lead to heart attack, stroke, or death.

How can I prevent PVD?

You can reduce your risk of developing PVD through a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

  • avoiding smoking

  • controlling your blood sugar, if you have diabetes
  • setting an exercise goal of 30 minutes a day, five times a week
  • working to lower cholesterol and blood pressure
  • eating a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat
  • keeping your weight at a healthy level

Talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms of PVD. Early diagnosis can help you and your doctor find ways to reduce your symptoms and increase the effectiveness of your treatment.