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Peripheral Vascular Disease

What is peripheral vascular disease (PVD)?

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a slow and progressive circulation disorder. It may involve disease in any of the blood vessels outside of the heart and diseases of the lymph vessels – the arteries, veins, or lymphatic vessels. Organs supplied by these vessels such as the brain, heart, and legs, may not receive adequate blood flow for ordinary function. However, the legs and feet are most commonly affected, thus the name peripheral vascular disease.

Conditions associated with PVD that affect the veins include deep vein thrombosis (DVT), varicose veins, and chronic venous insufficiency. Lymphedema is an example of PVD that affects the lymphatic vessels.

When PVD occurs in the arteries outside the heart, it may be referred to as peripheral arterial disease (PAD). However, the terms “peripheral vascular disease” and “peripheral arterial disease” are often used interchangeably. In the US, about 8 million people have peripheral artery disease. It is frequently found in people with coronary artery disease, because atherosclerosis, which causes coronary artery disease, is a widespread disease of the arteries.

Conditions associated with PAD may be occlusive (occurs because the artery becomes blocked in some manner) or functional (the artery either constricts due to a spasm or expands). Examples of occlusive PAD include peripheral arterial occlusion and Buerger’s disease (thromboangiitis obliterans). Examples of functional PAD include Raynaud’s disease and phenomenon and acrocyanosis.

What causes peripheral vascular disease?

PVD is often characterized by a narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. The most common cause is atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque inside the artery wall). Plaque reduces the amount of blood flow to the limbs and decreases the oxygen and nutrients available to the tissue. Clots may form on the artery walls, further decreasing the inner size of the vessel and potentially blocking off major arteries.

Other causes of peripheral vascular disease may include trauma to the arms or legs, irregular anatomy of muscles or ligaments, or infection. Persons with coronary artery (arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle) disease are frequently found to also have peripheral vascular disease.

What is the treatment for peripheral vascular disease?

There are two main goals for treatment of peripheral artery/vascular disease: control the symptoms and halt the progression of the disease to lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other complications.

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your signs and symptoms
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference