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What Is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Learn what peripheral vascular disease is from Dr. Dennis Finkielstein in this Howcast video.


So, what is peripheral vascular disease? Well, first of all, vascular disease refers to any problem with the vasculature of the body. Those would be the arteries and veins. Peripheral is to distinguish it from two other vascular beds in the body. The main three vascular beds in the body would be the cerebral, or vascular bed of the brain, the coronary vascular bed, which feeds the heart, and then, the vascular bed which feeds everything else, the rest of the body.

So vascular disease is really talking about the disease which affects the vasculature of the rest of the body, from the most part, our lower extremities and legs. It can be caused by a lot of the same things that cause the cerebral vascular disease or the coronary vascular disease. That would be the buildup of cholesterol plaque within those arteries. For the most part, they have a lot of the same risk factors as the cerebral and coronary vascular disease does. That would be smoking, lack of exercise, increased blood pressure and cholesterol. For peripheral vascular disease, however, smoking, plays a large factor.

So, how do you know if you have peripheral vascular disease? Oftentimes, you can note that in one of two ways. One would be lower extremity cramping or pain, which we call claudication with walking. Another way may be to see that the signs of decreased blood flow to the legs or feet. That would be cold or cool feet, or hair loss on the lower extremities, or a change in color of the feet or toes. The most common symptom would be claudication, which is a leg cramping during walking.

The best thing to do would be to see your doctor. Your doctor can order a pretty simple test, which we call a lower extremity vascular study or a peripheral artery study. The test starts off with something called an ankle brachial index, which is just a simple measure of the blood pressure difference between the arms, or upper extremity, and the legs. It can be done with a simple 15 minute in-office procedure. It's pretty painless and will tell the doctor right away if there's any problems with the vasculature in your legs.

So, how do we treat peripheral artery disease? It would be going back to the basic lifestyle modifications; stopping smoking, reducing your blood pressure, and treating high cholesterol. Another very important way we treat peripheral artery disease would be to increase the amount of exercise that you do. And that's the basic things you need to know about peripheral artery disease.

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