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What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Peripheral vascular disease, or peripheral artery disease as it is sometimes known, can develop in individuals who are near or over the age of 50, who have diabetes, who smoke and who are overweight. Does your loved one meet any of these criteria? If so, it is important to be alert for signs of this condition. The complications of the disease are serious and can lead to a loss of a limb and put your loved one at greater risk for heart attack and stroke.

Peripheral vascular disease is a reduction of blood flow to a person’s lower extremities--usually the legs--because of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a blockage of a person’s arteries because of fatty deposits on the artery walls that constrict blood flow.

Individuals who have PVD usually exhibit signs of weakness in the legs and sores that don’t heal. The color of the legs can change and become shiny and the person may lose the hair on their legs. Also, your loved one may feel pain--called claudication that comes from the reduced blood flow--in the legs from walking, or activity like climbing the stairs.

PVD can be diagnosed through a series of simple tests, such as a physical exam. During the exam, the physician will check your loved one for a weak or absent pulse in the extremities, poor wound healing, or poor blood pressure in the extremities. Diabetes and cholesterol tests can also be done through blood work to assess whether your loved one is afflicted with those diseases. Physicians can also use angiography or ultrasound to determine if your loved one’s arteries are blocked.

Make sure you ask your loved one’s physician about the specific cause of the PVD. It could be attributed to blood vessel inflammation or injury to your limbs.

Early signs of PVD can be eradicated by lifestyle changes, including a better diet, exercise and smoking cessation. Should those not be effective, your loved one’s physician can recommend cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or blood sugar lowering medications. Medicine to reduce blood clots can also be helpful as blood clots can cause tissue death.

Talk to your loved one’s physician about which medications are right for his or her situation and make sure that your loved one is not allergic to any of them alone or in combination.

Resource: Mayo Clinic