Atherosclerosis affects blood vessels in the body causing circulatory disorders in the affected organ (myocardial infarction, stroke, gangrene). The man risk factors of atherosclerosis are: cigarette smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated blood lipids (cholesterol), and obesity.
Peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD) is a narrowing of the arteries, commonly affecting the legs. Although about 1/5th of people over the age of 65 have this disease it often remains without symptoms. As atherosclerosis progresses, so too does arterial narrowing.
It should be stressed that a patient sometimes has no risk factors but nevertheless develops extensive PAOD.
The classic symptom of PAOD is ”claudicatio intermittens” i.e. leg muscle pain during walking, which resolves with rest. Muscle pain during exercise occurs due to inadequate blood flow and thereby poor oxygen supply.
If not treated, PAOD progresses, reducing the distance a sufferer is able to walk. It results sometimes in critical circulatory disorder with “rest pain” (i.e. pain without walking) and, finally, gangrene without infection (“mummification”) or with infection (abscess, phlegmon) develops. Without limb salvage treatment this critical circulatory disorder can lead to a major amputation.
Thereby it is of paramount importance to consult a doctor in case of signs of leg circulatory disorders: cold/pale legs, intermittent claudication, pain in the toes or feet, foot ulcerations that fail to heal.
Medical examinations needed to diagnose PAOD: Anamnesis, clinical examination, and uncle/brachial index measurement. To glean further information and to determine whether an operation is advisable, duplex ultrasonography and vascular imaging techniques are needed, e.g. non-invasive investigations as a computed tomography angiogram (CT-Angiography), magnetic resonance imaging angiography (MR-Angiography), or invasive investigation – conventional digital subtraction angiography (DSA).
For treatment modalities see “Treatment/Surgery”.