Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a term used to refer to a family of circulatory system conditions which involve the extremities. PVD can be very serious, and life threatening in some cases, making prompt treatment absolutely critical to patient outcomes. These conditions can be caused by a wide variety of activities and underlying medical conditions, and they are characterized by a weakening, hardening, or obstruction of the arteries and veins in the arms and legs.
Many cases of PVD are structural, involving the physical structures of the circulatory system, such as the arteries, which bring blood from the heart to the extremities. In patients with PVD, the decreased blood supply results in problems which start with simple pain and tingling after light exercise, and can end in gangrene or the loss of a limb. A common example of peripheral vascular disease is peripheral artery disease (PAD), also known as peripheral occlusive artery disease (POAD). The veins, which bring blood back to the heart for reoxygenation, are just as critical, as they pull toxins out of the extremities for processing. Occluded veins can lead to buildups of fluid in the limbs, along with infections.
In functional PVD, patients experience problems related to the function of the vascular system. Raynaud's Disease is a classic example of functional PVD. In these conditions, the structure of the vascular system remains intact, but a problem develops with the way in which the system functions, leading to circulatory problems.
Smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high blood pressure are all risk factors for developing PVD. Patients with this condition usually notice tingling and pain first, before noting increased cramping, sores which do not heal or take a long time to heal, and color changes, such as the appearance of blue or white-tinged areas on the fingers and toes. If the condition is allowed to progress, the onset of gangrene can occur as a result of the interrupted blood supply.
PVD can be diagnosed by checking the patient's blood pressure at various points on the body, and examining the veins and arteries with medical imaging studies. Doppler ultrasound, for example, can reveal areas in which the bloodflow is interrupted, while an angiogram with contrast dye can show obvious occlusions in the blood vessels. Treatment can include lifestyle changes, the insertion of stents in a procedure known as an angiplasty, or grafts of healthy blood vessels from other areas of the body to bypass an occluded or damaged area.