Peripheral vascular disease involves the arteries outside the brain and the heart. It develops once fatty deposits accumulates in the interior walls of these arteries and can affect the circulation of blood, usually in the arteries leading to the legs and feet.
If the doctor suspects peripheral vascular disease, a physical examination of the leg is carried out. In some cases, there are no symptoms or the following can occur:
- Brittle toenails
- Shiny skin
- Pain while walking or at rest
- Hair loss
Even though not dangerous, peripheral vascular disease might indicate an high degree of atherosclerosis, thus putting the individual at risk for developing other serious heart disease such as coronary heart disease and stroke.
What are the possible causes?
Peripheral vascular disease is triggered by the accumulation of fatty deposits on the arterial walls within the legs. These fatty deposits are comprised of cholesterol and other waste substances.
An individual with the condition can suffer from sore cramping in the leg muscles while engaging in physical activity since the muscles are not supplied with enough blood that they need.
Similar to other bodily tissues, the leg muscles require a regular supply of blood to properly function. Once the leg muscles are used, the requirement for blood drastically increases. If the arteries are obstructed, the supply of blood could not comply with the demand.
This deficiency between the supply and demand causes the muscles to suffer from sore cramping which only subside after the legs are allowed to rest.
What are the risk factors?
- Smoking – this damages the arterial walls which causes platelets to gather at the site in an attempt to repair it. Understandably, this causes the arteries to narrow down.
- Diabetes – poorly controlled diabetes which results to excess glucose in the blood can cause damage to the arteries.
- High fat and cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Homocysteine – this is a type of amino acid present in the blood. In high levels, it can damage the arterial walls, resulting to atherosclerosis but this has not yet been proven.
What are the indications?
The usual indication of peripheral vascular disease is sore cramping in the leg muscles instigated by engaging in physical activity such as climbing stairs or walking. The pain typically develops in the calves, but can also occur in the thigh or hip muscles that can range from mild or severe.
This pain eventually subsides after 5-10 minutes while the legs are allowed to rest. The pattern of the symptoms is called as “intermittent claudication”.
What are the other indications?
- Weakness or numbness in the legs
- Hair loss on the legs and feet
- Shiny skin
- Ulcers on the legs and feet that do not heal
- Brittle, slow-growing toenails
- Changes in the skin color on the legs which turn pale or bluish
- Wasting of the leg muscles
- Unable to feel a pulse in the leg or the pulse feels weaker than usual
- Men develop impotence (erectile dysfunction)