Vascular diseases range from diseases of the arteries, veins and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation. Among the most common types of vascular disease are peripheral vascular disease (PVD), peripheral artery disease (PAD) and coronary artery disease. The terms peripheral vascular disease and peripheral artery disease are often used interchangeably, but we discuss both here. Many of the problems we diagnose and treat involve peripheral vascular disease in one degree or another.
The most common type of peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is peripheral artery disease (PAD). Like the blood vessels of the heart (coronary arteries), your peripheral arteries (blood vessels outside the heart) also may develop atherosclerosis. Over time, the plaque buildup narrows the artery, causing increased pressure in the blood vessel. Eventually, the inside of the artery narrows so much that it restricts blood flow and less oxygen is delivered to the tissues, causing a condition called ischemia, an inadequate supply of blood that causes tissue damage.
If a fragment of this plaque from any part of the body breaks loose and clogs one of the arteries supplying the heart itself, the result is a heart attack. If a fragment breaks and blocks an artery going to the brain, a stroke will result. Narrowing of the arteries that supply the kidneys with blood can cause high blood pressure and kidney failure. Any tissue that does not have an adequate supply of blood and oxygen will, over time, become permanently damaged and die. That it is critical to diagnose and treat peripheral vascular diseases before it becomes a more serious problem.
In the early stages of PAD, symptoms include cramping and pain in the legs and buttocks, indicating poor circulation in the legs. Other common symptoms include fatigue, heaviness and discomfort during exercise or activity. These symptoms generally go away when the activity stops or you are resting. This is called “intermittent claudication.”
PAD affects about 8 million Americans. Atherosclerosis can start as early as the age of 20, and becomes more common as one gets older. By age 65, about 12 to 20 percent of the population has some degree of vascular disease. The exact cause is unknown, but several risk factors are known to accelerate the formation of fatty deposits, or plaque, in the arteries:
- Family history of vascular disease, angina, heart attacks or stroke
- Being overweight
- An unhealthy diet
- Lack of exercise
- Being male
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
Early diagnosis is critical, as people with PAD have a four to five times higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, PAD often goes undiagnosed as symptoms are often mistaken for something else.
If you want to learn more about peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and treatment options, wish to discuss symptoms or problems you may be experiencing or if your doctor has recommended that you see us for a vascular test, please contact us at (804) 828-2600 or email us.