What Is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

About 10 million Americans suffer from peripheral vascular disease (PVD), a slow and progressive circulation disorder that involves arteries and veins outside of the heart, as well as lymphatic vessels. Patients with coronary artery disease often also have peripheral vascular disease because the risk factors and causes can impact veins and arteries throughout their body.

Peripheral vascular disorders are conditions that cause changes in the way the blood flows through blood vessels (veins and arteries) in your body. This may occur when an artery becomes narrowed, weakened or blocked. It can occur in vessels that carry blood to the legs, arms, stomach or kidneys. When it occurs in the arteries, it is called peripheral arterial disease (PAD).‚Äč Complications of both PVD and PAD include poor wound healing, restricted mobility, limb pain, stroke, heart attack and loss of limb.

Meet the Peripheral Vascular Disease Team

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is a nationally recognized destination for those who require highly specialized cardiovascular care.

There are several types of peripheral vascular disease:

  • Aneurysms of the aorta and peripheral arteries: These are areas where the artery wall becomes thin and balloons out. Aneurysms can burst, causing death or loss of a limb.
  • Atherosclerosis: The most common form of PVD, this is the build-up of plaque inside the artery wall, causing the wall to thicken and lose elasticity. When a major artery is blocked, atherosclerosis can cause a blood clot, heart attack, stroke or aneurysm.
  • Buerger disease: A chronic inflammatory disease, this leads to the development of clots in the small and medium-sized arteries of the arms or legs. Buerger disease most commonly occurs in men between the ages of 20 and 40 who smoke cigarettes.
  • Chronic venous insufficiency: When one or more veins do not adequately return blood from the lower extremities back to the heart due to damaged venous valves, legs and ankles can become swollen or painful. Other complications include leg ulcers and open sores on the legs.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): A clot that occurs in a deep vein has the potential to dislodge, travel to the lungs and cause a potentially life-threatening event.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD): A type of peripheral vascular disease that affects only the arteries, which carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the organs and extremities.
  • Raynaud phenomenon: The smallest arteries bringing blood to the fingers or toes constrict and cause coldness, pain and change of color the fingertips or toes.
  • Thrombophlebitis: A blood clot in an inflamed vein, this may cause swelling, pain, tenderness, redness and warmth in an arm or leg.
  • Varicose veins: Dilated, twisted veins caused by incompetent valves allow blood to pool in the legs and cause burning or aching.

Related Resources

Peripheral Vascular Disease: Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a slow and progressive circulation disorder caused by narrowing, blockage or spasms in a blood vessel.