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Everything You Need to Know about Peripheral Vascular Disease 

What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, is characterized by the narrowing of the peripheral blood vessels. Peripheral vessels are located away from the heart and brain. Any narrowing of the vessels restricts blood flow and can lead to blockages.

Peripheral vascular disease is usually caused by atherosclerosis or a buildup of fatty plaque within the blood vessels. Peripheral vascular disease can be serious because blood clots can form within the veins, limiting blood flow or circulation.

PVD Symptoms and Risk Factors

Early on, patients with PVD may not experience any symptoms. When symptoms appear, they often come in pain and discomfort in the limbs, especially when active. Other symptoms include the following: 

  • Achiness or burning in the legs and feet
  • Shiny or purplish skin
  • Wounds or ulcers on the feet and legs
  • Thinning of hair on the legs 

The most common cause of PVD is atherosclerosis or the buildup of plaque along the inside of the arterial wall over time. Often, those who have PVD also have coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease results from a buildup of plaque along the walls of the carotid arteries on either side of the neck. There are a few other, less-common causes of PVD including injuries to the arms and legs, irregular muscle anatomy, and infection.

Although there are few symptoms of PVD early on, several risk factors may indicate a peripheral arterial screening is necessary. Risk factors include the following:

  • Being over the age of 50 
  • Being male
  • Coronary artery disease 
  • Family history 
  • High blood pressure 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco use 
  • Type 2 Diabetes 

PVD can have serious complications such as stroke or even amputation. However, it is fully treatable and even reversible when detected early on. Treatments for PVD include lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, increasing exercise, and taking medications to improve blood flow and reduce cholesterol. In more severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. 

Ultrasound for PVD

There are several ways to diagnose PVD such as an ankle-brachial index or angiogram. However, a vascular ultrasound exam is the most effective and noninvasive way to diagnose PVD. A vascular ultrasound exam is a type of imaging technique used to view what’s happening inside the vascular, or circulatory system.  

These ultrasound exams use Doppler technology, which involves high-frequency soundwaves that penetrate the body and create images and videos of the veins and arteries. These images and videos show both the speed and direction of blood flow, which can help detect blood clots, narrowing of blood vessels, plaque buildup, and more. 

Registered Vascular Technologists or RVTs typically perform vascular ultrasound exams. RVTs are trained to conduct ultrasound exams that focus on the vascular system, which comprises the veins and arteries within the body. Ultrasound exams are a crucial diagnostic tool for arterial disease. 

Ultrasound machines have three main components: a console, a video monitor, and a handheld device called a transducer. The transducer emits harmless, high-frequency soundwaves that create images of the veins and arteries. The RVT will use the transducer to gently press on the skin and compress the veins being examined. The compressions can help determine if veins are stiff and inflexible, which could indicate arterial disease. 

Although PVD can be a serious condition, it’s important to remember that it is treatable and even reversible when detected early on. Lifestyle and family history can be potential risk factors for PVD. If a doctor suspects their patient may be at risk for PVD or exhibiting symptoms, they are likely to recommend a vascular ultrasound exam. These ultrasound exams are a harmless and noninvasive to help determine if PVD indicators are present. Patients with concerns about PVD or who think they have symptoms should speak with their doctors immediately.  

Guest Contributor: Jordan Galerkin


  1. Peripheral Vascular Disease. John Hopkins Medicine.
  2. Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD). Yale Medicine.
  3. Types of Ultrasound. Ultrasound Quotes.