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- Peripheral vascular disease facts
- What is peripheral vascular disease?
- What is atherosclerosis?
- How does atherosclerosis cause disease?
- What are potential complications of peripheral artery disease?
- What are the other causes of peripheral vascular diseases?
- Who is at risk for peripheral artery disease?
- What are the symptoms and signs of peripheral artery disease?
- How is peripheral artery disease diagnosed?
- What are the treatments for peripheral artery disease?
- Lifestyle changes
- Supervised exercise
- Peripheral vascular disease medications
- Angioplasty for peripheral vascular disease
- Surgery for peripheral vascular disease
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What is peripheral vascular disease?
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) refers to diseases of the blood vessels (arteries and veins) located outside the heart and brain. While there are many causes of peripheral vascular disease, doctors commonly use the term peripheral vascular disease to refer to peripheral artery disease (peripheral arterial disease, PAD), a condition that develops when the arteries that supply blood to the internal organs, arms, and legs become completely or partially blocked as a result of atherosclerosis.
What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a gradual process whereby hard cholesterol substances (plaques) are deposited in the walls of the arteries. Cholesterol plaques cause hardening of the artery walls and narrowing of the inner channel (lumen) of the artery. The atherosclerosis process begins early in life (as early as teens in some people). When atherosclerosis is mild and the arteries are not substantially narrowed, atherosclerosis causes no symptoms. Therefore, many adults typically are unaware that their arteries are gradually accumulating cholesterol plaques. But when atherosclerosis becomes advanced with aging, it can cause critical narrowing of the arteries resulting in tissue ischemia (lack of blood and oxygen).
Arteries that are narrowed by advanced atherosclerosis can cause diseases in different organs. For example, advanced atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries (arteries that supply heart muscles) can lead to angina and heart attacks. Advanced atherosclerosis of the carotid and cerebral arteries (arteries that supply blood to the brain) can lead to strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). Advanced atherosclerosis in the lower extremities can lead to pain while walking or exercising (claudication), deficient wound healing, and/or leg ulcers.
Atherosclerosis is often generalized, meaning it affects arteries throughout the body. Therefore, patients with heart attacks are also more likely to develop strokes and peripheral vascular disease, and vice versa.