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What is Buerger's Disease?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Buerger’s disease is a condition that adversely affects the blood vessels in an individual’s arms and legs, which may ultimately restrict blood flow, damage tissues, and instigate infection. Considered a rare condition in the United States, Buerger’s disease is associated with tobacco use and may necessitate amputation in severe cases. Smoking cessation may be strongly advocated in an effort to prevent the development of this potentially debilitating disease.

There is no known, definitive trigger for the onset of this disease, though research has demonstrated that the use of tobacco products may contribute to symptom onset. Use of tobacco is known to cause blood vessel constriction, impair circulation, and reduce the flow of oxygenated blood throughout the body. Buerger’s disease causes the arteries and blood vessels in the extremities to swell and the blood that flows through them to clot, or coagulate. The constriction of blood flow combined with the coagulation leads to impaired circulation, oxygen deprivation of tissues, and nutrient deficiencies. Ultimately, the affected tissues become starved and vulnerable to damage and disease.

Individuals who develop this condition may experience a variety of signs and symptoms. Initially, symptomatic individuals may develop pain, weakness, and swelling that affects either their hands and arms or feet and legs. With time, these initial signs may spread to other parts of the body. Fingers and toes may develop open sores and may also adopt a pale hue triggered by exposure to cold temperatures, a condition known as Raynaud’s disease.

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There is no single diagnostic test that may be administered to confirm a diagnosis of this disease. During a physical examination, a physician may ask several questions regarding an individual’s symptoms. Following an initial examination, a physician may order a battery of tests to rule out the presence of other conditions.

Blood tests may be administered to rule out the presence of systemic disease, such as diabetes or lupus, and to measure red and white blood cells, hemoglobin, and other substances, the levels of which may be utilized to rule out other conditions. An individual’s blood flow may be measured with the use of the Allen’s test, which requires the individual to make a fist while the physician presses on the arteries in a person's wrist. As pressure on the arteries is eased and the individual unclenches his or her fist, blood flow and color restoration are assessed. Any indication of impaired blood flow may support a diagnosis of Buerger’s disease. Additionally, an angiogram may be performed on the arteries located in the individual’s limbs to evaluate the presence of early markers or damage associated with this condition.

Since there is no cure for this disease, treatment is centered on symptom management and the prevention of complications. Medications may be administered to break up blood clots, improve blood flow, and reduce inflammation. For individuals who smoke, counseling and smoking cessation products or medications may be recommended to help him or her to quit. Some cases of Buerger’s disease may require surgery to correct nerve damage and alleviate discomfort. For severe cases that involve the presence of gangrene, or other potentially life-threatening infection, amputation may be necessary to remove the damaged limb and prevent the spread of infection.

Individuals with this condition should regularly monitor their limbs and digits for scrapes and cuts. Decreased blood flow and numbness may contribute to situations where an injury occurs without the individual's knowledge. Any injuries that are slow to heal or remain open require immediate medical attention to prevent the development of infection.

Though the use of any tobacco product increases a person's risk for Buerger’s disease, heavy smokers and those who roll their own cigarettes using raw tobacco are at the greatest risk for developing this serious condition. Smoking cessation is a valuable preventative measure for decreasing one’s chances of developing Buerger’s disease. Smokers who are diagnosed with Buerger's disease should seek assistance with quitting smoking to prevent worsening their condition and to lessen their risk for complication development.

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