Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) refers to diseases and disorders of the blood vessels outside of the heart, such as those of the brain, gut, kidneys, or limbs. PVD is typically caused by blockage or damage to blood vessels such as veins and arteries.
Think of your body’s circulation like the plumbing in your house: pipes bring water in and take water away. When your heart pumps, blood moves through pipes called arteries to supply all of your organs and limbs. From there, blood returns to the heart in pipes called veins and lymphatic vessels. Each of these vessels can develop its own set of problems.
Over time, arteries can build up with cholesterol plaques and narrow. This can happen to arteries anywhere in the body, for example:
- In the neck arteries that supply the brain, it can cause a mini stroke or a stroke.
- In the arteries to the arms, it may cause fatigue or tiredness in one arm more than the other, or result in a difference in blood pressure between the arms.
- In the heart’s arteries, it may cause shortness of breath, pressure in your chest, arms, neck, back or stomach (in women, the symptoms may be less specific like fatigue or nausea).
- In the arteries to your kidneys, it may cause your blood pressure to be poorly controlled (sometimes suddenly), or may lead to deteriorating kidney function.
- In the aorta, which is the main artery which supplies all organs and limbs, it may contribute to weakening of the wall and formation of an aneurysm, the danger of which is a rupture.
- In the arteries to your legs, it may cause you to start walking slowly and have difficulty keeping up from fatigue, weakness, or discomfort/cramping.
Your veins move blood back to the heart. While veins don’t develop cholesterol build-up, they do develop a very common disease in the legs. To facilitate the movement of blood from the legs to your heart, your veins have valves that allow the blood to flow up to the heart. In some people, these valves may stop working, resulting in blood flowing backward, which is called venous insufficiency.
Symptoms of this disease may include:
- Fatigue or heaviness in the legs, especially at the end of day
- Swelling of ankles
- Cramps at night time
- Itching of skin
- Restless legs
- Pigmentation of skin below the knee
- Formation of visible veins on the legs and sores above the ankle that don’t heal quickly