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Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)

Clinical Overview

Reviewed by Brian R. Robinson, MD

Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), also known as atherosclerosis obliterans, is the name given to disease characterized by poor arterial blood flow to the extremities. This circulatory disorder occurs when the arteries that carry blood to the arms or legs become narrowed and clogged, causing pain in the legs, difficulty walking, numbness, and skin discoloration. The disease is common, affecting roughly one in twenty men and women over the age of fifty.

In patients with PVD, the arteries feeding the extremities become narrowed or clogged, and normal blood flow to these areas decreases. PVD sometimes causes pain, but often no symptoms surface until the narrowing or blockages become severe.

Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is the primary cause of PVD. Arteriosclerosis is a gradual process in which cholesterol and scar tissue build up and form a fatty plaque that sticks to the walls of the arteries, narrowing them and sometimes blocking them completely. Blood clots that lodge in the arteries and restrict blood flow can also cause PVD.

There are a number of risk factors associated with PVD. These include:

• cardiovascular (heart) problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke
• diabetes or a family history of diabetes or cardiovascular problems (immediate family such as parent, sister, or brother)
• smoking or a history of smoking
• being more than 25 pounds overweight
• eating fried or fatty foods three times a week or more
• high cholesterol
• inactive or sedentary lifestyle

Last updated: Jan-01-00

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