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Peripheral vascular disease

Peripheral vascular disease (also known as 'peripheral artery disease' or 'peripheral atherosclerosis') refers to diseases of arteries outside the heart and brain. It occurs when fatty deposits build up in the inner walls of these arteries and affect blood circulation, mainly in the arteries leading to the legs and feet.

If your doctor suspects you have peripheral vascular disease, they will usually carry out a physical examination of your leg.

You may have no signs or symptoms, or you may have:

  • shiny skin
  • brittle toenails
  • hair loss
  • pain when you walk
  • pain when you are resting.

While it is not immediately life-threatening, the fact that peripheral vascular disease has developed suggests that you have a high degree of atherosclerosis, giving you a much higher risk of developing another more serious cardiovascular disease such as:

Sources: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Peripheral vascular disease), NHS Choices, UK (Peripheral arterial disease, Causes of peripheral arterial disease)

Last reviewed: September 2015

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