Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a condition that affects the blood vessels outside of the heart and brain. PVD can cause tissue and organ death, becoming a medical emergency. Find out if you are at risk for developing PVD and what you can do to improve your vascular health.

What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, occurs when circulation to areas outside the heart and brain is reduced. The term peripheral, in healthcare, refers to any structure or bodily function occurring away from the central source. The heart and lungs are the central sources in our body, and our arms and legs are peripheral. The most common causes of peripheral vascular disease are narrowing or hardening of the arteries and veins, which limit the blood flow to the outside areas of the body. If the narrowed areas occur at the knee, everything below it will also be affected, and so forth.

Peripheral vascular disease can also affect circulation to organs besides the heart and brain, such as the stomach, intestines, and kidneys. When this happens, tissues are starved from oxygen and do not function properly. If the disease progresses and blood flow is cut off, the tissues will eventually die. The affected organs will fail, creating a medical emergency. PVD can also occur from vascular spasms.

Risk Factors for Peripheral Vascular Disease

According to the Center for Disease Control, 12% to 20% of people ages 60 and over get peripheral arterial disease (PAD), the most common type of PVD. This equates to roughly 8.5 million people. Some people are more likely to develop peripheral vascular disease than others because of their age, genetic makeup, lifestyle factors, or medical history.

Risk factors for functional PAD without damage include:

  • Cold climate:  People who live in colder climates are more likely to develop PVD due to increased exposure to cold. This is especially true for people with Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition that causes blood flow to decrease when they are exposed to cold temperatures.
  • Excessive and long exposures to vibration, such as tools and machinery: Any activity that puts a lot of stress on the arteries can cause damage and an increased risk for PVD. Extended work with vibration, like driving large equipment and construction, increases the risk of developing vascular diseases like PVD and PAD. Workers using tools with the frequency range of 60-300 Hz are more likely to develop symptoms like reduced feeling, loss of manual dexterity, and vasospasms induced by cold weather.
  • Prolonged stress:  Prolonged stress increases the risk of developing vascular disease. Stress causes your blood pressure to rise, and this puts additional pressure on your veins.
  • Certain drugs and medications:  Some drugs can cause vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels) and increase your risk for PVD. These include alpha-adrenoceptor agonists, vasopressin analogs, epinephrine, norepinephrine, phenylephrine (Sudafed PE), dopamine, dobutamine, and migraine and headache medications ( serotonin 5‐hydroxytryptamine agonists or triptans).

The organic form of PVD involves damage to the blood vessels by plaque deposits or thickening of the vessel walls.

Risk Factors for this type of PVD include:

  • Smoking: Smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing vascular disease, including peripheral arterial disease. Chronic constriction of blood vessels can occur and smokers are more likely to have early signs of atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries). It also weakens the walls of arteries and veins, increasing the risk for clots and PAD.
  • Uncontrolled Diabetes:  Diabetes can also increase the risk of developing vascular disease. Sticky build-up in vessels can occur and blood clots often adhere to the surface of these veins.
  • Elevated Cholesterol: High cholesterol levels are associated with atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, which can cause peripheral arterial disease by clogging the vessels. Fat deposits collect within arteries and veins resulting in clogs and decreased blood flow.
  • Infections:  Infections of the blood vessels can develop from bacterial infections, such as endocarditis, and fungal infections. These infections cause chronic inflammation within blood vessels.
  • Major Injuries:  Damage to the artery wall from an injury, such as during an accident or fall, can cause major trauma. Injuries can lead to structural abnormalities in veins and blood vessels.

Increased risk factors for getting the disease also include:

  • Genetics:  Some rare genetic conditions are associated with an increased risk of developing vascular disease.
  • History of blood clots or strokes: People who have had blood clots or strokes are at increased risk of developing vascular disease.
  • Pregnancy:  Preeclampsia during pregnancy can cause damage to the artery walls that increases the risk of getting PVD later in life.
  • Obesity:  Obesity is often associated with type II diabetes, which is linked to PVD.
  • Prior History of Blood Clots or Stroke:   People who have had blood clots or strokes are at increased risk of developing vascular disease.
  • Family History:  Some types of vascular disease, including PVD, are known to run in families. Genetic studies have shown several genes linked with an increased risk of venous insufficiency.
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for developing vascular disease. It puts additional stress on your arteries and veins, which can cause damage and plaque buildup in the blood vessels.
  • Exposure to Chemical Substances:  Exposure to harmful chemicals is known to cause damage and increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis, resulting in PVD.
  • Age: As we age, our risk for developing PVD increases. Aging causes the arteries and veins to become less flexible, which increases the risk of damage and plaque buildup.

Signs and Symptoms of PVD

Symptoms of PVD happen as a result of the lack of oxygen and nutrients to tissues from decreased blood flow.  A good example is to describe how it feels when your hand or foot is asleep. Chances are there is pain, numbness, and tingling. The skin may also lose its pink and healthy appearance, and even turn blue from lack of oxygen. Over time you may lose feeling in the area and may not know if you have cut or injured yourself, leading to slow healing and infections. If PVD involves internal organs, you will experience signs and symptoms related to poor organ function.

Symptoms of Peripheral Vascular Disease:

  • Decreased skin temperature
  • Thin, brittle, or shiny skin
  • Hair loss on legs
  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Muscle numbness or heaviness
  • Impotence
  • Restricted mobility
  • Severe pain
  • Thick, discolored toenails
  • Extremities with a reddish-blue hue

Lifestyle Changes that Prevent PVD

If you fall into a risk category for PVD or have already been diagnosed with Peripheral Vascular Disease, there are several things you can do to help prevent or slow the process of developing the condition:

Peripheral Vascular Disease - Vein Center

  • Maintain a healthy weight: A stable body mass index (BMI) is important to keep the blood flowing.
  • Keep active: As little as 15 minutes of activity each day can make a difference. Keep moving and get up to stretch every 30 minutes.
  • Improve diet: Reduce your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and simple sugars that can lead to obesity which is a risk factor for developing PVD. A low-fat diet with limited foods high in cholesterol is best. If you are diabetic, it is very important to manage your blood sugar levels.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking causes damage throughout the body including blood vessels which increases your risk for vascular diseases.
  • Manage a medical condition: If you have a chronic disease, such as diabetes or high blood
    pressure, make sure to take your medications and follow your doctor’s instructions. This will help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases that can lead to PVD.

Schedule An Appointment

If you feel that you are at risk, or are developing signs and symptoms of the condition, your Tennessee vein specialists at The Vein Centre can help you find the most appropriate treatment for your situation.