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What Is PVD? - Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Heather Zonts

Heather has taught in AD and BSN Nursing programs and has a master's degree in nursing.

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is associated with a number of disease processes, such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure. This lessor will review what PVD is, symptoms associated with it, and treatments for the disease.

What is PVD?

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) results from problems of the circulatory system. 'Peripheral 'refers to the system outside the central (heart) component of the circulatory system. We're basically talking about things like the legs and the arms.

PVD affects the veins and the arteries. PVD can be caused by elevated cholesterol levels which lead to plaque formation on the arteries and veins.

Normal artery versus occluded artery

It can also be caused by valve malfunction in the peripheral vascular system, leading to a backflow of blood or inadequate push of blood through the circulatory system.

Symptoms

The symptoms associated with peripheral vascular disease depends on what's affected; either the veins or the arteries. Consider the following scenarios:

First Example: A patient comes to your clinical with complaints of pain with walking. They also say, 'The pain gets worse when I try to prop up my legs!' When you look at his feet you notice that he's got blackened areas on his toes and his feet are cool to the touch.

This guy is suffering from arterial disease. Remember, arteries bring oxygen to the body. If someone is working harder with exercise, the muscles need more oxygen. If the arteries are occluded with plaque, as shown above, it's harder for the body to get oxygen to the muscles. This is why the individual is having pain with walking.

When he raises his legs he was having pain; think about this when considering the function of the arteries. Raising the legs increases the pressure that the heart needs to pump against in conjunction with the plaque, therefore decreasing the amount of oxygen the heart can deliver to the extremities. Now think about the cool feet: the circulation is impaired and less blood is delivered to the extremities, leaving them cold to the touch.

Another symptom noted was the blackened areas. When the cells in our bodies do not get oxygen, they die causing the black discoloration. Again, this is all contributed to the limited blood supply to these areas because of the narrowing of the arteries.

Second Example: A patient comes to your clinical with complaints of leg swelling. She has multiple open areas on her lower extremities. They are all moist and draining fluid. She also tells you she has pain when her feet are lowered and they feel better when she props them up.

Your patient is suffering from venous disease. Remember that veins carry waste products away from our tissues. When these waste products can't be carried away, they accumulate. When they accumulate, they put pressure against the tissues, which leads to cell death and a breakdown of the tissue occurs leading to the open areas. The open areas are moist because the waste products and fluid continue to accumulate. This admittedly gross symptom becomes a way for them to release the pressure. When the patient raises her feet, the legs have less pain because gravity helps the blood and waste products to return to the heart.

Treatment

When looking back at the symptoms that people suffer from with PVD, this can help us come up with a treatment.

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