Health Break: Peripheral vascular disease a common but preventable condition

Peripheral vascular disease is a common disease affecting millions of Americans. The affliction, often abbreviated PVD, is any disorder of the circulatory system, mainly the arteries and veins. When it affects the arteries, you may hear it referred to as peripheral artery disease.

PVD is commonly caused by a buildup of plaque or cholesterol, called atherosclerosis. When this happens, blood and oxygen have trouble reaching the parts of the body in that area. For example, if a leg artery becomes blocked, blood and oxygen have trouble getting to the thighs, calves and feet. This can cause pain and cramping in the legs. Some other symptoms may include heaviness, fatigue, weakness, tingling, cold feet or discoloration.

Many people do not recognize the signs or symptoms of PVD and often ignore them. They blame their symptoms on diabetes, neuropathy, arthritis or just old age. If the blockages get severe, it can lead to serious problems, such as ulceration and amputation.

Unfortunately, PVD is common in the United States, affecting about 10 million people. It typically affects people age 50 and older, especially those with a history of smoking or diabetes. In people older than 70, it can affect about one-third of individuals. Even if you don’t have symptoms of PVD, everyone with risk factors should get screened for the disease.

PVD has a higher mortality and morbidity rate than both breast cancer and colon cancer. We should be just as aggressive screening for this disease as we are with other types of common disorders.

The good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent PVD. Diet and exercise are especially important. Do your best to quit smoking, manage your hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes. Don’t ignore your symptoms, and take the time to explain any concerns to your doctor. There are many treatment options if you do suffer from PVD, ranging from medications to procedures, but it is extremely important to catch the disease early in its course.

Another important thing to note is the fact that there is a definite relationship between PVD and heart disease. When atherosclerosis affects the arteries of the heart, this is called coronary artery disease. Those who have PVD are four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Atherosclerosis, which is the plaque within the arteries, affects the entire body, so if it is present in the leg arteries, it is often present in the heart arteries as well.

Mount Nittany Physician Group has a vascular team that can work with patients to personalize a treatment plan for those suffering from PVD. Diagnosis is performed with easy testing such as blood-pressure monitoring and ultrasound, all of which we offer at Mount Nittany Health.

We offer convenient appointments in State College and Mifflin County. More information about this and other services are available at www.mountnittany.org.