Arteriosclerosis Obliterans: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Arteriosclerosis obliterans may not be something you are familiar with. In this lesson, we will learn about them as well as learn about their symptoms and treatment.

My Legs Keep Hurting

Janet is 60-years-old and has a family history of heart disease. She has had high blood pressure for her entire adult life. She is overweight and doesn't do much physical activity. Over the last year, she noticed that her legs hurt when she walked through the grocery store. She just assumed it was because she was out of shape and overweight so she ignored it. But lately, her legs were aching even if she wasn't active so she decided to see her doctor. After her doctor performed a physical exam, the doctor told her that he believed she had arteriosclerosis and wanted to do more tests.

Understanding Arteriosclerosis

Arteriosclerosis is a disease in which the arteries in the body become thickened and narrowed due to plaque buildup within the artery walls. Risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.

Arteriosclerosis
arteriosclerosis

Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to every cell of your body. If the arteries become narrowed, there is less blood flowing through the arteries to get to the cells. Since your cells require nutrients and oxygen from the blood, problems will arise if they don't get enough blood.

To understand arteriosclerosis, it might help to think about the plumbing in your bathroom sink. Have you ever had a bathroom sink that isn't draining well? It fills up with water as you brush your teeth and it takes several minutes to drain. The pipes below your sink have buildup that has made the pipes narrower. The water is draining slowly because of this narrowing. The same concept is happening in the arteries of those with arteriosclerosis.

Symptoms of Arteriosclerosis

All of the cells of your body require oxygen and nutrients that the blood delivers to them. When you are active, your muscles are needing more oxygen than when you are resting, so this is when you see the problems of narrowed arteries.

If the coronary arteries, or the arteries that carry blood to your heart muscle, have arteriosclerosis, when you are physically active you will experience chest pain. The heart muscle hurts because it is not receiving enough oxygen.

If the arteries in your legs have arteriosclerosis, you will have pain in your legs when you are active for the same reason. This is also known as claudication which simply means there is not enough blood getting to the muscles that you are using.

Janet's doctor explains to her that she is experiencing claudication and that she has arterierosclerosis that affects her legs. He is concerned that she is having pain even when she is at rest and orders more tests to evaluate if she has arteriosclerosis obliterans.

Complications of Arteriosclerosis Obliterans

Arteriosclerosis obliterans occurs when the artery becomes occluded from arteriosclerosis. Think back to your bathroom sink, now it's not draining at all! When this occurs, the muscles will not receive the vital oxygen and nutrients that they need to stay alive. This will result in pain, not only with activity but at rest too. The legs will be cold, pale, and may not have hair growth.

Gangrene occurs when body tissue dies from not receiving enough oxygen. This can result in amputation if not treated.

When Janet hears this, she is very concerned. She is anxious to know how to treat this.

How to Treat Arteriosclerosis Obliterans

After further testing, Janet's doctor explains that her femoral artery is severely obstructed and he recommends surgery to open it up to prevent further complications. He explains that she will have an angioplasty. This is a procedure in which he will insert a catheter into her artery and when he gets to the blocked area, a small balloon inflates to open up the artery. He will place a stent in that area to help it to stay open.

He says another treatment option may be bypass surgery if the narrowed artery is very long. In this type of surgery, a vein from another part of her body or a synthetic vein will be used to bypass the blocked section.

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