Peripheral Vascular Disease
Causes of Peripheral Vascular Disease
The most common cause of PVD is peripheral artery disease, which is due to atherosclerosis. Fatty material builds up inside the arteries and mixes with calcium, scar tissue, and other substances. The mixture hardens slightly, forming plaques. These plaques block, narrow, or weaken the artery walls. Blood flowing through the arteries can be restricted or completely blocked.
Other causes of PVD include:
- Blood clots: A blood clot can block a blood vessel.
- Diabetes: The high blood sugar level present with diabetes can, over time, damage blood vessels. This makes them more likely to become narrow or to weaken. People with diabetes often also have high blood pressure and a high level of fats in the blood. Both conditions can accelerate the development of atherosclerosis.
- Inflammation of the arteries or arteritis: Arteritis can cause narrowing or weakening of the arteries. Some autoimmune conditions lead to vasculitis. The inflammation can affect not just arteries, but other organ systems too.
- Infection: The inflammation and scarring caused by infection can block, narrow, or weaken blood vessels. Both salmonellosis (infection with Salmonella bacteria) and syphilis are two infections traditionally known to infect and damage blood vessels.
- Structural defects: Defects in the structure of a blood vessel can cause narrowing. Most of these are acquired at birth, and the cause is unknown. Takayasu disease is a vascular disease that affects the upper vessels of the body. It occurs usually among females of Asian origin.
- Injury: Blood vessels can be injured in an accident such as a car wreck or a bad fall.
Risk factors for peripheral vascular disease include:
- Family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or stroke
- Older than 50 years
- Overweight or obesity
- Inactive (sedentary) lifestyle
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol or LDL (the “bad cholesterol”), plus high triglycerides and low HDL (the “good cholesterol”)
People who have coronary heart disease or a history of heart attack or stroke generally also have an increased frequency of having PVD.
Peripheral Vascular Disease Symptoms
Only about 60% of the individuals with peripheral vascular disease have symptoms. Almost always, symptoms are caused by the leg muscles not getting enough blood. Whether you have symptoms depends partly on which artery is affected and to what extent blood flow is restricted.