Peripheral artery disease (PAD) and peripheral vascular disease (PVD) are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two distinct conditions. PAD is a type of PVD, but PVD also encompasses a wider range of disorders. Let’s explore the differences between PAD and PVD, including their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options to help you understand these vascular diseases better.

What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a broad term that refers to any condition that affects the blood vessels outside of the heart, which includes arteries, veins, and lymphatic vessels. PVD reduces blood flow to the legs, feet, and arms, which can also cause a variety of symptoms including pain, numbness, and skin changes.

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of PVD that affects the arteries. PAD is caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis). This buildup can narrow or block the arteries, restricting blood flow to the legs and feet.

What is the Main Difference Between PAD and PVD?

Peripheral artery disease specifically affects the arteries in the legs, while peripheral vascular disease can affect any blood vessel outside of the heart and brain. PAD is also a type of peripheral vascular disease, whereas PVD is a general term for any vascular condition that affects the blood vessels. Another difference between PAD and PVD is their cause: PAD is caused by plaque buildup, while PVD can have multiple causes, including atherosclerosis, blood clots, inflammation, and infection. 

Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between PAD and PVD:

CharacteristicPADPVD
Affected blood vesselsArteriesArteries, veins, and lymphatic vessels
Common causesA buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis)Atherosclerosis, blood clots, blood vessel inflammation, infections, deep vein thrombosis, and venous insufficiency 
Common symptomsPain, cramping, numbness, and tingling in the legs and feet; non-healing sores; changes in skin color and temperature in the affected limbsPain, swelling, and heaviness in the legs; varicose veins; skin changes on the legs or feet; leg ulcers
RisksSmoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a family history of PADSmoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and a family history of PVD
TreatmentLifestyle changes, medications, minimally invasive procedures, and surgery (in severe cases)Lifestyle changes, medications, compression stockings, minimally invasive procedures, and surgery (in severe cases)

Symptoms of PAD and PVD

The symptoms of PAD and PVD can vary depending on the severity of the disease and the location of the blockages. However, some people may not experience symptoms at all. PAD and PVD can cause similar symptoms, including:

  • Pain or cramping in the legs, especially during exercise
  • Numbness or tingling in the feet and legs
  • Sores on the feet or toes that don’t heal
  • Changes in the color or temperature of the feet
  • Weak pulse in the feet

However, there are some subtle differences in the symptoms of PAD and PVD. For example, people with PAD may experience claudication, which is pain or cramping in the legs that occurs during activity and improves with rest. People with PVD may also experience a variety of other symptoms depending on the type of blood vessel that is affected.

For example, chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a vascular condition that can cause swelling and pain in the legs and ankles, while another condition – deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – can cause symptoms such as pain, redness, and swelling in the affected leg.

Risk factors for PAD and PVD

The risk factors for PAD and PVD are similar. They include:

  • Age: PAD and PVD are more common in older adults over the age of 50. 
  • Diabetes: Diabetes can damage the nerves and blood vessels in the legs and feet, leading to PAD and PVD.
  • Family history: If you have a family history of peripheral artery disease or peripheral vascular disease, you are at a higher risk of developing the condition.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure can damage the arteries and make them more likely to narrow.
  • High cholesterol: High cholesterol levels can increase the risk of plaque buildup.
  • Smoking: Smoking damages the blood vessels and increases the risk of atherosclerosis.

Diagnosis for PAD and PVD

Diagnosis for PAD and PVD is also similar. Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and perform a physical exam. They may also order tests such as:

  • Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI): This test compares the blood pressure in your ankle to the blood pressure in your arm. A low ABI may be a sign of PAD or PVD. 
  • Angiography: This test uses X-rays and a special dye to create images of the arteries and veins. It can be used to identify blockages or narrowing of the blood vessels.
  • Doppler ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to create images of blood flow in your arteries and veins. It can be used to locate and determine the severity of the arterial blockages. 

Treatment for PAD and PVD

Treatment for PAD and PVD depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. Treatment options may include:

  • Lifestyle changes: This includes quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Medications: Medications such as statins, blood thinners, and blood pressure medications can help to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of complications.
  • Minimally invasive procedures: Procedures like angioplasty and stent placement can be used to open blocked arteries.
  • Bypass Surgery: In more severe cases, bypass surgery may be recommended to create a new pathway for blood to flow around the blocked or narrowed artery.

Prevention of PAD and PVD

The best way to prevent PAD and PVD is to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels

Request an Appointment with American Endovascular

If you have any of the risk factors for PAD and PVD, it is important to see your doctor regularly for checkups. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent serious complications. Please request an appointment with one of our vascular specialists today to learn more about peripheral artery disease. 

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