One in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has peripheral vascular disease (PVD), but nine out of 10 cases usually go untreated.  It's because the cause, plaque build-up in the legs, doesn't always cause symptoms. When they do surface, the symptoms can easily be mistaken for natural signs of aging. One common sign of PVD is leg cramping while walking. Unlike nocturnal leg cramps which are not associated with PVD, walking cramps are a sign that the muscles are not receiving enough oxygen rich blood.

When left untreated, PVD victims are four times as likely to suffer a fatal heart attack and two to three times more likely to suffer a stroke. Typically, after diagnosis of PVD, 21 percent of patients die within one year and nearly 32 percent die within two years. Additionally, 12 percent of patients lose a limb to amputation three months after a diagnosis.

But at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital, the prognosis for PVD is much more promising.

Our success rate for treating critical limb ischemia, caused by PVD, is 95 percent - compared to a 30-50 percent success rate on average nationally.  It's the reason why Riverside Methodist's team of critical limb physicians is known worldwide for their revolutionary treatment of PVD. Read more about Riverside Methodist's Critical Limb Care.

What is Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)?

Peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, is the result of extra cholesterol and other fats collecting along the walls of arteries that supply blood to the limbs. Most commonly seen in the legs, PVD can also surface in the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys and stomach.

What are the symptoms of PVD?

The most common symptom is cramping in the leg muscles, which include the buttocks, thigh or calf. The cramps can occur while walking or climbing stairs. The cramps can come and go and patients often report having "good days and bad days.". Other symptoms include sores or wounds on the toes, feet or legs, one leg noticeably colder than the other, or skin discolorations. But most people with PVD have no symptoms at all.

What is the difference between nighttime leg cramps and PVD related cramps?

The biggest difference between the two is that nighttime cramps only occur at night, while PVD related cramps occur during waking hours while walking, climbing stairs or during any other physical activity.

Nighttime leg cramps are very common and their frequency increases with age. The main cause is an inactive lifestyle. The best solution is to become more active with moderate exercise and stretching. There are also medications available to ease nighttime cramps, see your physician for more information.

PVD cramps strike in the arms and the legs but most commonly in the calf muscle. Unlike nighttime cramps, PVD cramps strike during activity like walking or exercising. The cramps worsen with movement and only stop when the affected area is rested.

Who is at risk for PVD?

While the cause of PVD is unknown in most cases there are some lifestyle factors and conditions that increase one's risk, including:

  • Age. Anyone over the age of 50 is at a higher risk.
  • Family History. If you have a family history of PVD or Coronary Artery Disease you're at a much higher risk of developing PVD.
  • Smoking or a history of smoking. People who smoke or used to smoke have up to four times a greater risk of developing PVD.
  • Diabetes. One out of every three people over the age of 50 with diabetes is likely to have PVD.
  • High blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of developing plaque in their arteries.
  • High blood cholesterol. Excess cholesterol and fat in your blood increase the odds of plaque formation.
  • Heart disease. Anyone who has heart disease has a one in three chance of also having PVD.
  • Race. African-Americans are twice as likely to suffer from PVD.

How is PVD diagnosed and treated?

The first center of its kind in the United States, Riverside Methodist's Critical Limb Care provides a complete range of vascular care including rapid diagnosis, testing, consultation and treatment of PVD

During an initial screening for PVD, a specialist will check the pulse in the legs and feet. If pulses are weak, an ankle brachial index (ABI) test may be necessary. An ABI measures blood flow to the legs.

If you think you may have peripheral vascular disease, make an appointment for a PVD screening at Riverside Methodist by calling (614) 4-HEALTH.  If PVD is caught early enough, treatments ranging from lifestyle changes to minor surgery could prevent a future heart attack, stroke or amputation.