Central arteries transport blood directly from the heart. Peripheral arteries carry blood everywhere else in the body (head, neck, arms, lower abdomen, legs, feet).
Peripheral artery disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), occurs when peripheral blood vessels are blocked, hardened and narrowed with plaque in a condition called atherosclerosis. This reduced or blocked blood supply increases a person's risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Signs that you may have peripheral vascular disease are:
- Leg pain that often occurs when exercising and ceases during rest (called claudication)
- Numbness, coldness, change of color or loss of hair in the legs or feet
- Muscle pain in the thighs or lower legs
- Paleness, blueness or weak or absent pulse in a limb
- A change in the way you walk
Various instruments and tests can detect the presence of vascular disease. These include blood pressure cuffs, Doppler and intravascular (IVUS) ultrasound, angiogram, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), plethysmogram and venogram.
There are several treatment methods for peripheral artery disease (PAD), ranging from life changes (e.g. exercise and diet modifications, no smoking, control of blood sugar and blood pressure) and medications (such as blood thinners and cholesterol-lowering statins) to angioplasty and surgery.
Angioplasty and Stenting
During an angioplasty, a small tube, called a catheter, with a balloon on the end is inserted into the blocked artery and gently expanded. This pushes open the blockage and restores blood flow. The catheter is then removed. A tiny metal cylinder called a stent may be put in place to ensure that the artery stays open.
In this newer angioplasty technique, the catheter delivers nitrous oxide to the blocked artery and freezes the plaque there. The frozen plaque breaks up and is removed from the artery.
Atherectomy refers to a group of angioplasty procedures that remove plaque from the artery walls. Plaque may be "shaved off" and removed, or, less commonly, it may be vaporized using laser light.
This procedure restores circulation by bypassing a blocked vessel-that is, re-routing blood around it. A healthy vein is taken from another part of the body and re-attached, or grafted, above and below the blocked section of the diseased artery.