Causes of Peripheral Vascular Disease
Atherosclerosis (a narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to leg and arm muscles due to plaque buildup) is a major factor in causing PVD. Plaque reduces blood flow to limbs and decreases oxygen and nutrients to the tissue. Clots may form on the artery walls, further decreasing the inner size of vessels and potentially blocking major arteries.
As people age, their risk increases of developing PVD, particularly leg artery disease. People age 50 and older have an increased risk of developing the disease. Men have a greater risk than women.
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.
Conditions Associated with Peripheral Vascular Disease
The term "peripheral vascular disease" encompasses several different conditions. Some of these include:
Atherosclerosis - the build-up of plaque inside the artery wall. Plaque is made up of deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin. The artery wall then becomes thickened and loses its elasticity. Symptoms may develop gradually, and may be few, as the plaque builds up in the artery. However, when a major artery is blocked, a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or blood clot may occur, depending on where the blockage occurs.
Buerger's Disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) - a chronic inflammatory disease in the peripheral arteries of the extremities leading to the development of clots in the small- and medium-sized arteries of the arms or legs and eventual blockage of the arteries. Buerger's disease most commonly occurs in men between the ages of 20 and 40 who smoke cigarettes. Symptoms include pain in the legs or feet, clammy cool skin, and a diminished sense of heat and cold.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency - a prolonged condition in which one or more veins do not adequately return blood from the lower extremities back to the heart due to damaged venous valves. Symptoms include discoloration of the skin and ankles, swelling of the legs, and feelings of dull aching pain, heaviness, or cramping in the extremities.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) - a clot that occurs in a deep vein, and has the potential to dislodge, travel to the lungs, occlude a lung artery (pulmonary embolism), and cause a potentially life-threatening event. It is found most commonly in those who have undergone extended periods of inactivity, such as from sitting while traveling or prolonged bed rest after surgery. Symptoms may be absent or subtle, but include swelling and tenderness in the affected extremity, pain at rest and with compression, and raised vein pattern.
Raynaud's Phenomenon - a condition in which the smallest arteries that bring blood to the fingers or toes constrict (go into spasm) when exposed to cold or as the result of emotional upset. Raynaud's most commonly occurs in women between the ages of 18 and 30. Symptoms include coldness, pain, and pallor (paleness) of the fingertips or toes.
Thrombophlebitis - a blood clot in an inflamed vein, most commonly in the legs, but it can also occur in the arms. The clot can either be close to the skin (superficial thrombophlebitis) or deep within a muscle (deep vein thrombosis). It may result from pooling of blood, venous wall injury, and altered blood coagulation. Symptoms in the affected extremity include swelling, pain, tenderness, redness, and warmth.
Varicose Veins - dilated, twisted veins caused by incompetent valves (valves that allow backward flow of blood) allowing blood to pool. It is most commonly found in the legs or lower trunk. Symptoms include bruising and sensations of burning or aching. Pregnancy, obesity, and extended periods of standing intensify the symptoms.