Peripheral Vascular Disease
By Edward S. Pozarny, DPM
Arlington Podiatry Center
Peripheral Vascular Disease
What is PVD?PVD (peripheral vascular disease) is a disease of the blood vessels that carry blood to your lower body. With PVD, less blood reaches your legs and feet because the vessels become narrowed or blocked. If it is not treated, leg and foot tissue may die. This is called gangrene and can possibly lead to amputation. You can help avoid such problems by working with your doctor.
What Causes PVD?As you age, your blood vessels may become damaged. Plaque, a buildup of fat and other materials, may collect along the inner walls of the blood vessels. The plaque can narrow or block your vessels completely.
A healthy vessel allows blood to flow freely and carry oxygen to the muscles. During activity, more oxygen is needed so more blood flows through the vessel. Leg tissue stays healthy if it receives enough blood.
In contrast, a narrowed vessel has a significantly reduced amount of blood passing through it because of the plaque buildup on its walls. Muscle tissue does not get enough oxygen-rich blood and may cause leg muscles to cramp during activity. Cramping may go away with rest, then return when activity resumes.
A blocked vessel does not allow blood to flow because of a severe plaque buildup. Leg muscles become oxygen-starved and tissues begin to die. Muscles may cramp, even at rest, and night pains are common during this stage.
Do You Have PVD?To find out if you have PVD, get a physical exam. Your doctor will ask questions about when you feel pain and how long it lasts. Your blood pressure and pulse may be taken at your leg and arm to see how well blood is flowing. As foot problems can be a sign of PVD, your doctor will check the color of your feet and look for cracks and infections.
Your doctor then may order some tests to see where exactly your blood vessels are blocked. A Doppler exam uses harmless sound waves to produce an image of your vessels. An arteriogram injects dye into your blood so that your vessels will appear clearly in a series of x-rays that will show the location of any blockages.
PVD and Your FeetWith PVD, less blood reaches your feet and you may develop foot problems. To help keep your feet healthy, check them daily for changes. Below are some other tips for caring for your feet
Always wear shoes and socks, even indoors.
Dry between toes after showering.
Apply moisturizer daily to callus-prone areas of your feet, but not between toes.
If asked to, go to your doctor for nail trimming.
Certain health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, make PVD worse. Talk to your doctor about controlling these problems, and make healthy lifestyle changes including eating a health diet and exercising.