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What is Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)?

Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) or Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a chronic condition that affects blood vessels outside of the heart. Symptoms and conditions related to PVD include peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis, varicose veins, non-healing wounds and other conditions that over time can result in heart disease and stroke.

PVD is caused by arteriosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries." This problem occurs when fatty material (plaque) builds up on the walls of your arteries. This causes the arteries to become narrower. The walls of the arteries also become stiffer and cannot widen (dilate) to allow greater blood flow when needed. As a result, when the muscles of your legs are working harder (such as during exercise or walking) they cannot get enough blood and oxygen. Eventually, there may not be enough blood and oxygen, even when the muscles are resting.

The following risk factors can increase the risk of developing PVD/PAD:

  • Smoking. Smoking, which is more closely related to developing PAD than any other risk factor — increases the risk of developing PAD three to five times.
  • Diabetes. One in three people over age 50 with diabetes is likely to have PAD. The rate of amputation for people with diabetes is 10 times higher than for people without diabetes.
  • Age. The risk of PAD also increases with age. People over the age of 50 have a higher risk of PAD, and among adults age 65 and older, 12 to 20 percent may have PAD.
  • Leg pain. Pain, cramps, a tired feeling or heaviness in the legs when exercising may be a sign of poor circulation in the legs, which may be caused by PAD.
  • Kidney disease involving hemodialysis
  • High blood pressure.
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels. 
  • Personal history of heart disease, a heart attack or a stroke.
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