Buerger’s disease is a disease that can cause inflammation of blood vessels in the hands and feet. Using tobacco increases your risk of developing it and the likelihood of serious complications.

Buerger’s disease, also called thromboangiitis obliterans (TAO), is an inflammation of small- and medium-sized blood vessels. It is typically associated with smoking. Although any artery can be affected, it usually causes blockages of the arteries in the feet and hands. This leads to pain and tissue damage.

If you have Buerger’s disease and cannot completely quit using tobacco products, the disease can progress. In some cases, doctors may have to amputate affected limbs if you have tissue death.

Keep reading to learn more about Buerger’s disease’s symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Buerger’s disease begins by causing your arteries to swell and blood clots to form in your blood vessels. This restricts blood flow and prevents blood from fully circulating through your tissues. This results in tissue death due to a lack of nutrients and oxygen.

Buerger’s disease usually starts with pain in the areas affected, followed by weakness. The symptoms include:

Some people may also experience neurological symptoms. These can include:

The specific cause of Buerger’s disease remains unknown. But the risk of developing Buerger’s disease increases when you smoke heavily.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain chemicals in tobacco may irritate the lining of the blood vessels and cause inflammation. This can prevent blood flow and lead to blood clots.

Almost everyone with Buerger’s disease uses tobacco in some form. This may include:

  • cigarettes
  • cigars
  • chewing tobacco

There may be a genetic component to Buerger’s disease. The disease affects people worldwide of any race and age who heavily use, or have heavily used, tobacco products. But it affects people with certain ancestry in higher numbers, including:

  • Israeli Jews of Ashkenazi descent
  • people with Indian ancestry
  • people with Korean ancestry
  • people with Japanese ancestry

Buerger’s disease is a clinical diagnosis. This means no specific test determines if you have the disease. To diagnose you, a doctor typically rules out other conditions that can cause symptoms similar to Buerger’s disease.

A doctor may order blood tests to rule out conditions that may include:

If these are negative, a doctor may order tests. This can include:

  • vascular ultrasound
  • angiogram
  • an Allen test, which checks blood flow to your hands.

A positive test result may help a doctor diagnose Buerger’s disease but could also indicate several other conditions.

There isn’t a cure for Buerger’s disease.

But quitting smoking is critical in improving symptoms and preventing disease progression.

Smoking cigarettes or breathing in second-hand smoke can worsen Buerger’s disease and increase your risk of complications. Among people with the disease who continue to smoke, 43% require one or more amputations in under 8 years. Even nicotine replacement therapy can promote disease progression.

Treatment typically includes medications and other measures to reduce symptoms. This may include:

  • vasodilators, including calcium channel blockers
  • pain medication, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • antibiotics to manage open sores, as needed
  • hyperbaric oxygen therapy
  • quitting smoking
  • amputation surgery to remove tissue with gangrene

You may be able to lower your risk of developing Buerger’s disease and related complications by fully abstaining from exposure to all tobacco products.

If you stop using tobacco products, the symptoms associated with Buerger’s disease may disappear without needing treatment.

If your condition is severe, complications like gangrene or circulation problems in other parts of your body may be unavoidable. Severe gangrene may require limb amputation. Visiting your doctor when you first begin to feel unwell will help you avoid any complications.

Buerger’s disease can cause inflammation of small- and medium-sized blood vessels, which can lead to blood clots and other complications. It typically occurs in people who use tobacco.

Treatment typically includes total avoidance of exposure to tobacco products. Some people may need medications to help manage their symptoms.