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What is Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)? 

Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the human body. When leg arteries become blocked, the legs do not receive enough blood or oxygen. The result is the condition called peripheral vascular disease (PVD), also commonly referred to as peripheral artery disease (PAD). 

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. 

People with PVD often experience discomfort or pain when they walk. The pain can occur in the hips, buttocks, thighs, knees, shins, or upper feet. People are more likely to develop PVD with age. Smoking or having diabetes increases chances of developing the disease sooner. 

Peripheral Vascular DiseaseThe arteries normally are smooth and unobstructed on the inside but can become blocked through a process called atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) as people age. A sticky substance called plaque can build up in the walls of the arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, and fibrous tissue. As more plaque builds up, the arteries narrow and stiffen. Eventually, enough plaque builds up to reduce blood flow to the leg arteries. When this happens, the leg does not receive the oxygen it needs. 

Conditions may be occlusive (the artery becomes blocked) or functional (the artery either constricts or expands due to a spasm). Occlusive examples include peripheral arterial occlusion and Buerger's disease (thromboangiitis obliterans). Functional examples include Raynaud's disease and phenomenon and acrocyanosis. 

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

Approximately 10 million people in the United States have PVD. It frequently is found in people with coronary artery disease, because atherosclerosis, which causes coronary artery disease, is a widespread disease of the arteries.