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What is peripheral vascular disease?

Posted Aug 03 2009 12:00am
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a heart condition similar to that of coronary artery disease and carotid artery disease. In PAD, the fatty deposits build up in the inner linings of the artery walls. These blockages restrict the blood flow circulation, mainly in arteries leading to the kidneys, stomach, arms, legs and feet.
In its early stages, a common symptom is cramping, or fatigue in the legs and buttocks during activity. Such cramping subsides when the person stands still. This is called “intermittent claudication.” People with PAD often have fatty buildup in the arteries of the heart and brain. Because of this association, most people with PAD have a higher risk of death from heart attack and stroke.
There are two types of these circulation disorders:
Functional peripheral vascular diseases don’t have an organic cause. They don’t involve defects in blood vessels’ structure. They’re usually short-term effects related to “spasm” that may come and go. Raynaud’s disease is an example. It can be triggered by cold temperatures, emotional stress, working with vibrating machinery or smoking.
Organic peripheral vascular diseases are caused by structural changes in the blood vessels, such as inflammation and tissue damage. Peripheral artery disease is an example. It’s caused by fatty buildups in arteries that block normal blood flow.
How is peripheral artery disease diagnosed and treated?
Techniques used to diagnose PAD include a medical history, physical exam, ultrasound, X-ray angiography and magnetic resonance imaging angiography (MRA).
Most people with PAD can be treated with lifestyle changes, medications or both. Lifestyle changes to lower your risk include stopping smoking, diabetes control and blood pressure. Become physically active; eat a low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol diet.
PAD may require drug treatment, too. Drugs include medicines to help improve walking distance, antiplatelet agents and cholesterol-lowering agents (statins).
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