Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD, Peripheral Artery Disease, Peripheral Arterial Disease, PAD)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI
    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.

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Angioplasty for peripheral vascular disease

Angioplasty is a nonsurgical procedure that can widen a narrowed or blocked artery. A thin tube (catheter) is inserted into an artery in the groin or arm and advanced to the area of narrowing. A tiny balloon on the tip of the catheter is then inflated to enlarge the narrowing in the artery. This procedure is also commonly performed to dilate narrowed areas in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle.

Sometimes the catheter technique is used to insert a stent (a cylindrical wire mesh tube) into the affected area of the artery to keep the artery open. In other cases, thrombolytic medications (medications that dissolve blood clots) may be delivered to the blocked area via a catheter.

Angioplasty does not require general anesthesia and may be performed by an interventional radiologist, cardiologist, or vascular surgeon. Usually, a local anesthetic at the area of catheter insertion and a mild sedative are given. Major complications of angioplasty are rare, but can occur. These include damage to the artery or blood clot formation, excessive bleeding from the catheter insertion site, and abrupt vessel closure (blockage of the treated area occurring within 24 hours of the procedure).

Despite these risks, the overall incidence of complications is low and the benefits of angioplasty (no general anesthesia, no surgical incision, and the ability to return to normal activities within a couple of days) outweigh its risks. Usually a one-night hospital stay is required when angioplasty is performed.

Angioplasty is indicated when a patient has claudication that limits his or her activities and does not respond to exercise, medications, and lifestyle measures. Most doctors also recommend angioplasty when disease is very severe and there is a focal, localized narrowing that is accessible via catheter. If a patient is too ill to have surgery and has severe ischemia (decreased oxygen) that threatens loss of a limb, angioplasty may also be attempted.

Some cases of peripheral artery disease may be more difficult to treat by angioplasty. For example, blockages in multiple small arteries of the legs or blockages in extremely small vessels may not be treatable by this method.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/3/2015

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