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Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral Vascular Disease

When you have symptoms of peripheral vascular disease in a leg or a foot (or in an arm or a hand), see your health care provider for an evaluation.

Generally, peripheral vascular disease is not an emergency. On the other hand, it should not be ignored.

  • Medical evaluation of your symptoms and effective treatment, if indicated, may prevent further damage to your heart and blood vessels.
  • It may prevent more drastic events such as a heart attack  or stroke or loss of toes and feet.

If you have symptoms of peripheral vascular disease along with any of the following, go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

  • Pain in the chest, upper back, neck, jaw, or shoulder
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, difficulty walking, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Do not try to "wait it out" at home. Do not try to drive yourself. Call 911 right away for emergency medical transport.

Self-Care at Home

Your health care provider will recommend ways that you can reduce your risk factors for atherosclerosis and peripheral vascular disease. Not all risk factors can be changed, but most can be reduced. Reducing these risk factors can not only prevent your disease from getting worse but can also actually reverse your symptoms

  • Quit smoking: Quitting smoking reduces symptoms and lowers your chance of having your peripheral artery disease (and arteries elsewhere) get worse.
  • Get active: Regular exercise, such as walking, can reduce symptoms and increase the distance you can walk without symptoms.
  • Eat nutritious, low-fat foods and avoid foods high in cholesterol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Follow your health care provider's recommendations for controlling high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • If you have diabetes, follow your health care provider's recommendations for controlling your blood sugar and taking care of your feet. Trimming your own toenails and injuring skin could lead to skin breakdown, gangrene, and loss of toes, if blood flow is impaired.
Follow-up

Follow the recommendations of your health care provider for risk factor reduction. If he or she recommends medication, take the medication  as directed. Report changes in your symptoms and any side effects you experience.

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Prevention

The best way to prevent peripheral vascular disease is to reduce your risk factors. You cannot do anything about some of the risk factors, such as age and family history. Other risk factors are under your control.

  • Do not smoke.
  • Eat nutritious, low-fat foods; avoid foods high in cholesterol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Engage in moderately strenuous physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day. At least walk briskly for 20-30 minutes daily.
  • Control high blood pressure.
  • Lower high cholesterol (especially LDL cholesterol or the “bad cholesterol”) and high triglyceride levels, and raise HDL or “the good cholesterol.” If exercise fails to lower your cholesterol, certain medications (statin drugs) can be taken to decrease the bad cholesterol.
  • If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar level and take scrupulous care of your feet. Ask your doctor what your HbA1C is, a measure of how well your blood sugar is controlled; it should be less than 7.0. If it is greater than 8.0, it is not controlled, and your risk of blood vessel complications (eyes, heart, brain, kidneys, legs) escalates.

Smoking is a very strong risk factor for developing peripheral vascular disease and can significantly worsen the disease, especially in diabetics. Quitting smoking can reduce the symptoms of peripheral vascular disease and lower your chance that the disease will get worse.

Outlook

If untreated, peripheral vascular disease can develop complications:

  • Permanent numbness, tingling, or weakness in legs or feet
  • Permanent burning or aching pain in legs or feet
  • Gangrene: This is a very serious condition. It is the result of a leg or foot or other body part not getting enough blood. The tissues die and begin to decay. The only treatment is amputation of the affected body part.

People with peripheral vascular disease are at higher-than-normal risk of heart attack and stroke.

 

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