Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral Vascular Disease, (PVD) refers to narrowed arteries that reduce the flow of blood flow to a part of the body other than the brain or heart. PVD is a serious condition, as it increases the likelihood of Heart Attack or Stroke sixfold.

Atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries with fatty plaque deposits, is often a hallmark of Peripheral Vascular Disease.

Get the facts on Peripheral Vascular Disease

What is Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral Vascular Disease, (PVD) sometimes known as Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), is also known as peripheral artery occlusive disease or peripheral atherosclerosis.

It refers to narrowed arteries that reduce blood flow to a part of your body other than your brain or heart. Your legs are most likely to be affected by PVD, but it sometimes also occurs in the arms and can be a contributing factor to erectile dysfunction.

What causes PVD?

The blocked or narrowed arteries become clogged with fatty plaque (atheroma), in a process called atherosclerosis.

Smoking and diabetes are the two most significant Risk factors for developing PVD. And you’re certainly more prone to it if PVD, Stroke or Coronary Heart Disease run in your family, or if you have other heart Risk factors such as High Blood Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure.

A sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight also contribute, and, as with all heart conditions, the Risk also increases with age.

What are the symptoms of PVD?

Symptoms vary depending on which vessels are affected and how blocked they are, and may not always become apparent until the condition is advanced. In fact, about half of the people who have PVD don’t have any symptoms.

Partial blockage causes pain that gets worse during exercise and eases when resting known as intermittent claudication.

More severe blockage may cause pain at rest that continues at night known as critical limb ischaemia, and/or wounds in the leg that either don’t heal or take longer than normal to heal known as vascular ulcers.

Total blockage causes sudden onset of coldness in the body part that’s affected. Skin quickly turns blue/purple, progressing to black commonly referred to as gangrene. The affected body part requires urgent amputation otherwise the patient will die.

How do I find out if I have PVD?

The absence of a pulse in the affected leg will alerts doctors immediately to PVD. Your doctor will then conduct tests that check for blood pressure variations in different parts of the body. These include an ankle/brachial index test (or ABI), which compares blood pressure in the arms and legs, or exercise tests that monitor blood pressure differences when the body is under stress.

How is PVD treated?

Treatment begins with pinpointing the site of the blockages, using Doppler ultrasound scans (sound waves) and and/or an angiogram, where a needle is inserted into your groin and guided to your leg arteries, injecting a special dye to assess the degree of artery blockage. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may also be used.


If possible, surgeons perform an angioplasty, to restore the flow of blood. This procedure inserts a ‘balloon’ into the affected artery in your leg, opening up the blockage. Once the artery is open, a stent, or expandable metal tube, is sometimes inserted into the artery so that it stays open permanently.

Atherectomy, another surgical procedure, removes the fatty obstruction, and in the most severe cases bypass graft surgery may be performed. This procedure uses a section of healthy vein or synthetic tubing to redirect blood flow around the narrowed area, so that blood can flow to the leg more freely.

If gangrene has set in – lack of blood circulation, which causes body tissue to die – the affected area must be amputated (surgically removed).

Medication & supplements

While no medications will unblock the artery blockage, drug treatment is directed to the other Risk factors and Cardiovascular Disease conditions that are invariably present e.g. cholesterol-lowering statins, blood-pressure lowering drugs and blood thinners.

Supplements that effectively lower cholesterol include fish oil and plant stanols/sterols, and aged garlic extract that has been proven to lower blood pressure.

How can I prevent PVD?

Healthy lifestyle plays the major part in preventing PVD even if you have some Risk factors that are genetic. Know your Risk factors, manage them, and follow this quick guide to improved cardiovascular health. Importantly, if you have any concerns about your heart, particularly if you have a family history of heart disease, don’t delay – talk to your doctor.

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Don't Smoke

If you smoke, there has never been a better time to quit. Nicotine replacement patches or prescription medications are effective in reducing the cravings.

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Check Your Cholesterol Levels Regularly

Do you know your cholesterol levels? Most people don't. Information is key, so knowing where you stand is the first step in keeping track and maintaining your heart health. You can order a Blood Pathology Request through Results are mailed directly to you and you can track your results using the My Heart Health section of

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Take Supplements Daily

Supplements are a great way to make sure you're getting your daily requirement of heart healthy nutrients. Supplements such as Omega 3 fish oil, Vitamins C and E and Coenzyme Q10 can be very beneficial to your heart health.

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Keep Your Blood Sugar In Range

If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s direction and keep your blood glucose within a healthy range. Even if you don't have diabetes, stick to a low GI (Glycaemic Index) diet. You won’t be hungry and your blood sugar levels will be stable.

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Check Your Blood Pressure Regularly

Order a blood pressure monitor and keep track of your blood pressure weekly. You can record your results in the My Heart Health section of Aim to keep your blood pressure out of the danger zone - below 140/90mmHg. If your blood pressure is consistently high see your doctor.

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Be Active

Get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, or at least 2 hours in total per week. Even better, if you can get 4 hours of sweaty activity per week, you'll help lower your Risk of cancer too.

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Watch Your Waistline

Get your waist measurement to your 'low risk' zone. Men should keep it below 95cm and women should be below 80cm. Aim for a Body Mass Index of less than 25. You can track your progress in the My Heart Health section of

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Seek Happiness

Happiness is good for the heart. Just as negative emotions such as depression, anger, and hostility are risk factors for heart attack and stroke, studies show that happiness seems to protect the heart.