Do Not Ignore the Signs of Vascular Disease
The legs may offer the first sign of the presence of peripheral vascular disease (PVD), a narrowing of the blood vessels that can lead to serious health complications.
PVD commonly involves the buildup of plaque in the peripheral arteries (those outside your heart). As the arteries become blocked, they are less able to transport nourishing blood to the legs and other parts of the body. PVD sometimes runs its course silently until the blood vessels become so clogged that treatment is required to avoid permanent damage to the limbs and surrounding tissues.
PVD commonly occurs in the legs. Sufferers often complain of a cramping pain called claudication when they walk a particular distance every time. This is a message from your muscles that they’re not getting enough blood flow and oxygen to work properly.
“In addition to claudication, PVD sufferers may also experience a variety of symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs; foot pain that may awaken the patient from sleep; pale, red, or blue skin discoloration of the extremities or toes; changes in skin temperature; wounds that won’t heal or gangrene; buttock pain; impotence in men; and loss of leg hair,” said Joseph Naoum, M.D., vascular surgeon at Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital.
Doctors can use several diagnostic tests to determine if you are suffering from PVD:
- The ankle-brachial index is a simple, noninvasive test that compares blood pressure between your ankles and your arms.
- Doppler ultrasound can help determine if a specific artery is clogged by providing an image of the vessel and blood flow inside it using sound waves.
- An angiogram can provide a blueprint of any narrowing or blockage present. During this procedure, a doctor injects dye into an artery to identify blockages using fluoroscopy, a special kind of X-ray.
- Mapping of the arteries can also be achieved via computed tomography (CT) scanning or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA).
Treating the Condition
If you are diagnosed with PVD, your doctor will consider a variety of treatments. Sometimes he or she may combine therapies to achieve the best results possible. This may include lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check, getting more exercise and scheduling regular checkups, along with medications and surgery.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, can reduce the plaque that forms in the arteries. Antiplatelet medications help prevent binding of those platelets and reduce clot formation in the arteries. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure and improve circulation. He or she may also inject a clot-busting drug directly into a blood vessel if it is blocked by a clot.
Your doctor may choose to perform angioplasty. During this procedure, he or she inserts a tiny balloon into the blood vessel and then inflates the balloon to open the clogged area. Sometimes, the doctor will permanently place a tiny metal cylinder or “stent” in the vessel to help keep it open.
Another therapy, called atherectomy, involves inserting a special device on the end of a catheter directly into the vessel to shave down the hard plaque.
“In some cases, patients may need bypass surgery to build detours around the blocked and damaged vessels so the blood can continue to reach and nourish the parts of the body down-stream from the blockage,” Dr. Naoum said.
There is no one-size-fits-all procedure to improve symptoms. The multidisciplinary teams at Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital offer a range of procedures to provide the best possible therapy for patients.
If you are experiencing symptoms of peripheral vascular disease, talk to your primary care doctor or schedule an appointment with a vascular surgeon at Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital for an evaluation. To make an appointment with Dr. Naoum, call Houston Methodist Cardiovascular Surgery Associates at 281.523.2363.
Are you seeking relief from painful varicose and spider veins? If so, join Dr. Joseph Naoum for a free seminar on Thursday, Jan. 16 from 5:30-7 p.m. at 2035 Space Park Drive in Nassau Bay. Guests will learn the symptoms, causes and treatments for varicose and spider veins. To register for the event, visit houstonmethodist.org/events or call 281.333.8899.
About Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital
Houston Methodist Clear Lake brings the expertise and compassionate care of Houston Methodist Hospital in The Texas Medical Center to Clear Lake communities. The hospital provides a broad spectrum of adult medical and surgical care, is an accredited chest pain center, and is also a Primary Stroke Center designated through DNV. Houston Methodist Clear Lake offers many inpatient and outpatient services including a Breast Care Center with 3-D mammography, state-of-the-art imaging, labor and delivery with a level II neonatal ICU, Cancer Center, weight loss surgery and advanced laparoscopic surgery, comprehensive orthopedics and sports medicine, cardiovascular services, neurology, urology and otolaryngology. Visit houstonmethodist.org/clearlake to learn more and to find a doctor near you.