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Overview of peripheral vascular disease

Tirohanga whānui ki te matenga ia toto mōwaho

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) happens when the blood flow to your arms and legs is reduced. This is due to the narrowing of the arteries caused by atherosclerosis. It means that less oxygen is delivered to your arms and legs. It's also called peripheral artery disease (PAD).

PVD is the most common cause of critical limb ischaemia, acute limb ischaemia and intermittent claudication. These are conditions where the lack of blood flow and oxygen cause tissue damage or pain.

PVD can also cause foot ulcers.

Reducing your risk of peripheral vascular disease

You cannot control all risk factors, but lifestyle changes can help you lower some risks. This means:

Diagnosing peripheral vascular disease

Your general practice team will ask you questions about your health and your symptoms. They may arrange blood tests to check your cholesterol and blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Your general practice team may also refer you to a vascular specialist (a surgical doctor who specialises in blood vessels). The vascular specialist might arrange tests like an ankle-brachial pressure index. The ankle-brachial pressure index test compares the blood pressure in your lower ankle with the blood pressure in your arm. They should be about the same. If the blood pressure in your leg is lower than in your arm, it can be a sign of problems with the blood vessels in your leg.

Treating peripheral vascular disease

Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medication and in extreme cases surgery.

Lifestyle changes

Walking can improve your circulation and reduce your symptoms, especially if you follow a walking programme.

Taking medication

Your doctor might prescribe medicines to:

Surgery

In severe PVD including if there is a compete blockage of an artery, you may need surgery to restore the blood flow to your leg or arm.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2022.

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Review key: HIBLV-403653