Peripheral arterial occlusive disease

If peripheral arterial occlusive disease occurs, the blood flow in the legs is disrupted. This is caused by arteriosclerosis of the legs, leading to arterial constriction or occlusion. The resulting circulatory disorder causes pain and facilitates the development of infections with the formation of skin ulcers and the death of skin (necrosis).

Smoking is a major risk factor for the occurrence of arteriosclerotic changes in the leg arteries. This is why the disease is also known as smoker's leg in layman's terms. Diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol are further risk factors. Men are affected twice as often as women.

The first signs of circulatory disorder are a feeling of coldness and pale skin in the affected areas. Circulatory disorders in the legs often cause the characteristic pain while walking. Patients can thus only walk short distances and must stand still time and again. This is why the disease is also known as intermittent claudication, illustrates the typical walking pattern where the patient stands still time and again while walking in the city. If the circulatory disorder worsens further, this results in blood supply disorders of the tissue. Then ulcers develop which almost never heal. If the circulation is very bad, the tissue dies. This death of the tissue, known in medical terms as necrosis, causes black discolouration in the affected region. Bacteria infections which are very difficult to treat can easily arise tissue which is poorly supplied with blood.

Peripheral arterial occlusion disease is diagnosed on the basis of the typical symptoms and with various examinations. For example, measuring the blood pressure in the legs and radiological examination of the leg arteries with contrast agent (angiography).

The treatment depends on the severity of the disease. The primary goal of the therapy is to improve the circulation, which means it is very important to avoid risk factors such as smoking. The patient's circulation can be improved with targeted movement training.  Medication is used to expand the arteries and to prevent blood clots from forming. However, surgical procedures are often required to resolve the arterial occlusion. You can find out more in the endarterectomy and balloon dilation sections. In severe cases with wide-spread necrosis, the leg can sometimes only be saved with toe amputation or amputation of a foot.