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Peripheral Occlusive Vascular Disease

Overview

Peripheral vascular occlusive disease (also called peripheral arterial disease) is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs. The main problem with peripheral vascular occlusive disease is that the extremities, especially the legs will not receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand. This causes leg pain when walking which is referred to as intermittent claudication.

Peripheral vascular occlusive disease is also a sign atherosclerosis (accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries). One can successfully treat peripheral vascular occlusive disease by quitting tobacco, exercising and following a healthy diet.

Symptoms

Generally, people with peripheral vascular occlusive disease have mild or no symptoms. Some people have intermittent claudication.

The primary symptoms of intermittent claudication include:

  • Muscle pain or cramping in the legs or arms that is triggered by activities such as walking. This pain is temporary and reduces after a period of rest. The location of the pain depends on the location of the clogged or narrowed artery. The most common location of pain is the calf. The severity of intermittent claudication varies from mild discomfort to debilitating pain thus making it hard to walk or do other physical activities.
  • Painful cramping in the hip, thigh or calf muscles after activities such as walking or climbing stairs
  • Weakness, numbness, and coldness in the legs
  • Sores on the legs, feet, and toes that do not heal
  • Colour change in the legs
  • Hair loss or retarded hair growth on the feet and legs
  • Slow growth of toenails and shiny skin on the legs
  • Weak pulse or lack of pulse in the legs or feet
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

If peripheral vascular occlusive disease progresses, pain occurs even at rest or when lying down (ischemic rest pain). The pain may get intense enough to disrupt sleep. Hanging the legs over the edge of the bed or walking around will temporarily relieve the pain.

Risk factors

Risk factors of peripheral vascular occlusive disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Increasing age,
  • A family history of peripheral vascular occlusive disease, heart disease or stroke
  • High levels of homocysteine (a protein component that helps build and maintain tissues of the body)

Smokers and diabetics have the greatest risk of developing peripheral vascular occlusive disease due to reduced blood flow.

Complications

If peripheral vascular occlusive disease is caused by atherosclerosis there is also the risk of developing:

  • Critical limb ischemia : This condition begins with open sores caused by injury or infection on the legs and feet that do not heal. This then progresses and leads to tissue death (gangrene), sometimes requiring amputation of the affected limb.
  • Stroke and heart attack : Atherosclerosis that causes the signs and symptoms of peripheral vascular occlusive disease is not limited to the legs. Deposits of fats also build up in arteries supplying your heart and brain leading to stroke.