Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a group of conditions involving problems with blood vessels outside your heart and brain. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a type of PVD where your arteries become narrowed or blocked.

PVD is a group of diseases that cause problems with the blood vessels outside your heart or brain.

PAD specifically refers to diseases involving your arteries, which are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from your heart.

The main cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque inside your arteries.

Read on to learn more about PVD and PAD.

Are peripheral vascular disease and peripheral arterial disease the same?

The terms “PVD” and “PAD” are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference.

PVD refers to diseases affecting either veins or arteries outside your brain and heart. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood away from your heart. Veins carry deoxygenated blood back to your heart.

PVD includes PAD, which is a group of diseases that specifically occur in your arteries.

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Here’s a look at the symptoms of PVD and PAD.

Peripheral arterial disease symptoms

Many people with mild PAD don’t have symptoms.

The most characteristic symptom is pain brought on by walking due to insufficient blood flow to the legs. This pain usually goes away within a few minutes of rest. It may be worse on one side. The medical term for this pain is “intermittent claudication.”

Other symptoms can include:

  • erectile dysfunction, which is often an early symptom
  • hair loss on your legs and feet
  • numbness and weakness in your legs
  • ulcers on your feet and legs that don’t heal
  • shiny skin
  • wasting of your leg muscles
  • pale or blue tint to your legs, which may be harder to spot on darker skin tones

Peripheral vascular disease symptoms

Issues with the valves inside your veins can lead to varicose veins. Varicose veins are enlarged and swollen veins that often appear around your feet or legs.

Other symptoms can include:

Here’s a look at the causes and risk factors of PAD and PVD.

PAD causes

Typically, PAD develops from atherosclerosis in the:

  • abdominal aorta
  • iliac artery
  • femoral artery

Atherosclerosis is a narrowing of your arteries from plaque buildup.

Risk factors for PAD and atherosclerosis include:

PVD causes

Atherosclerosis rarely occurs in veins. One common type of PVD is chronic venous insufficiency. It occurs in up to 17% of males and up to 40% of females. It’s characterized by the inability of blood to properly flow through your veins and back to your heart.

Venous insufficiency can develop due to chronic high blood pressure in your veins or a blood clot.

Risk factors for chronic venous disease include:

It’s possible to develop venous problems without PAD. Factors like leg injuries or prolonged standing can damage veins.

The most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, not injury.

Contact a doctor if you develop symptoms of PVD (which includes PAD), like recurring leg pain when exercising or the formation of ulcers on your legs that don’t heal.

Varicose veins usually aren’t serious, but it’s a good idea to seek medical attention if they start to hurt.

The diagnostic process for PVD usually starts with a physical exam. A doctor will look for characteristic symptoms on your skin and legs.

A doctor may also order tests, such as:

Here’s a look at the treatment options for PVD and PAD.

Peripheral arterial disease treatment

PAD doesn’t have a cure, but certain lifestyle strategies can help improve symptoms. These strategies include:

If you are struggling to quit smoking, let your doctor know. They can help you create a cessation plan, which may include prescription treatments.

Medications your doctor may prescribe for PAD include:

In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgical treatment to remove a blockage or create a bypass around it.

Learn more about PAD treatment.

Peripheral vascular disease treatment

Treatment options for PVD include:

Ways you can minimize your chances of developing atherosclerosis and PVD include:

  • avoiding or quitting smoking
  • staying physically active
  • eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats
  • speaking with a doctor about cholesterol-lowering medications
  • managing diabetes

The most characteristic symptom of PAD is pain in your legs with walking or activity. It’s important to speak with a doctor if this happens to you, or if you have any other concerning symptoms.