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PVD or peripheral vascular disease affects the blood vessels in our peripheral circulation, meaning outside the heart. In PVD both the peripheral veins... PVD and PAD

by Kimberly Allen, RN

PVD or peripheral vascular disease affects the blood vessels in our peripheral circulation, meaning outside the heart.  In PVD both the peripheral veins as well as the peripheral arteries are affected. However, frequently PVD is used to refer to PAD or peripheral artery disease, which is incorrect.  They are two separate conditions.  In PAD only the arteries are affected with different symptoms than PVD which affects both the veins and the arteries.

The veins and arteries in the legs are the most common to be effected by PVD/PAD.

The prevalence of PVD varies significantly depending on how it’s defined.  Most estimates are that over 10 million Americans suffer with PVD.  PVD is more common in men than women and the incidence increases with age with most cases of PVD/PAD being diagnosed after the age of 50.  People with diabetes have asignificant ly higher incident rate of PVD with
approximately  1 in 3 over 50 years of age being diagnosed with PVD.
There are other conditions that also increase your risk of developing PVD including obesity, high cholesterol and smoking. The most common cause of PVD/PAD is atherosclerosis.  The fatty deposits that build up om the walls of you blood vessels in atherosclerosis cause the blood vessels to become narrow therefore restricting the blood flow.  Though atherosclerosis is the most common cause, it’s not the only cause.  There are other diseases that can cause inflammation of your blood vessels like lupus or Raynaud’s syndrome, and radiation exposure like after radiation therapy for cancer as well as any injury to your limbs and any unusual development of your muscles or ligaments can all lead to PVD/PAD.

Most experts believe that at least half of all people suffering with PVD/PAD have either no symptoms or symptoms so mild that they don’t report them.  For those that do experience symptoms they usually complain of pain, burning, fatigue and a general achiness in the muscles of their calves, feet or thighs that usually develop during exercise but then disappear after resting for awhile.  In the early stages of PVD/PAD you may notice these symptoms only when you walk faster, up hill or for long distances.  Then as the disease progresses, these symptoms appear sooner and with less exercise, eventually your feet and legs may start feeling numb when you are resting.  Also, frequently your legs will feel cool to the touch and appear pale in color.  Should your PVD/PAD become severe, you will start experiencing severe cramps and pain at night that interupts your sleep, pain and tingling in your feet and toes can be so severe that just the weight of the sheet is extremely painful.  The pain is usually worse when you raise your legs and gets better when you allow them to dangle.  As PVD/PAD worsens your skin will be dark and bluish in appearance and you can develop sores that will not heal.

The two main goals of treatment of PVD/PAD are to manage the symptoms and to stop the progression of the disease and reduce your risk of heart attack and/or stroke.  The first thing the Dr will do is discuss lifestyle changes that can significantly improve your symptoms including diet, eating a heart healthy diet that is low in saturated fats and regular exercise are key components to the success of treating PVD/PAD.  However, probably the single most important thing you can do to improve your PVD/PAD is if you smoke, quit.  There are numerous smoking cessation options available to help you, your Dr can help you decide which would be best for you.  If necessary, your Dr may also prescribe medications to lower your cholesterol level and manage your blood pressure as well as medications to prevent blood clots.  If you are a diabetic your Dr will work with you on getting your blood sugar under control.

The best way to prevent PVD/PAD is to practice a healthy lifestyle. Exercise regularly, eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegtables, and low in saturated fat.  Maintain your blood pressure and cholesterol levels with in normal ranges and stop smoking if you’re a smoker.  For diabetics it’s important to manage your diabetes and maintain good control of your blood sugar levels.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at