Heart Health

What You Need to Know About Peripheral Vascular Disease

When most people think of narrowed or blocked blood vessels, they think about it in terms of how it might affect the heart. But reduced or blocked blood flow can also affect other areas of your body.

Peripheral vascular disease affects blood vessels – including both arteries and veins – outside of the heart. Here are some of the most common questions we hear regarding the condition.

What causes the condition?
It is frequently caused by peripheral artery disease, which is the result of the formation of plaque that blocks, narrows or damages the artery walls. If left untreated, blood flow through the arteries can become restricted or blocked.

Additional causes include the formation of blood clots, diabetes, infection, structural defects and injury to the blood vessels.

Am I at risk?
There are several factors that can put you at a higher risk for developing peripheral vascular disease. These include:

• Family history of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
• Having coronary artery disease or a history of heart attack or stroke
• Age 50 or older
• Being overweight or obese
• Smoking
• Diabetes – over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol

What symptoms should I watch for?
About 60% of people with peripheral vascular disease do not have any symptoms. Those that do, typically present with leg pain or heavy or tight legs, especially during the nighttime hours. These symptoms are a sign the blood vessels in the legs are blocked. Additional symptoms may include:

• Numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs
• Burning or pain in the feet or toes
• A sore on a leg or foot that won’t heal
• Cold feet or legs
• Leg or foot discoloration
• Pain in the buttocks
• Loss of leg hair
• Impotence

It’s important to seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms. Earlier diagnosis means more – and more effective – treatment options.

How is peripheral vascular disease diagnosed?
Peripheral vascular disease is often diagnosed through a physical exam. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and examine areas where you feel pain. In some cases, further tests are needed, such as angiography, ultrasonography and CAT Scan. Your doctor will determine which tests are best for your situation.

What are my treatment options?
The first line of treatment is often making lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking, getting active and getting your blood sugar to a healthy level. Angioplasty with stenting is another option to help enlarge narrowed or blocked blood vessels. In the most severe cases, bypass surgery may be an option to bypass a blocked blood vessel that is unresponsive to less invasive treatments.

Edward-Elmhurst Health’s team of heart specialists provide expert, high-quality care for peripheral vascular disease. Our team approach and collaboration help us determine the best approach to treat and manage your condition. To learn more or to make an appointment with a heart specialist, visit us online or call 630-527-6363