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Beyond the Heart 

Plaque Buildup Affects Far More than the Heart

You know about heart disease—how it’s a product of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and how it can lead to a heart attack. How much do you know about peripheral vascular disease, or PVD? The answer is more than you think. That’s because PVD is the same disease process as heart disease, it just occurs in an area other than the heart.

“Peripheral vascular disease is on the same spectrum as heart disease, with all of the same risk factors,” says Edic Stephanian, MD, a vascular surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Garland. “And one precipitates the other. If you have heart disease, you’re at risk for PVD and the other way around.”

Who’s at Risk?

Anyone at risk for heart disease is also at risk for PVD. Risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Advancing age
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking or history of smoking
  • Family history of coronary artery disease or PVD

Having no risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. That’s why you should alert your doctor if you have symptoms, particularly sores on your feet that won’t heal or pain in your legs when you walk that goes away with rest. “Oftentimes, PVD can be confused with arthritis or other musculoskeletal problems,” Dr. Stephanian says.

Treatment Options

As with heart disease, most cases of PVD are treatable or even avoidable with lifestyle modification. The first and most important step is to quit smoking. Next, be physically active for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week or more. Eating a heart-healthy diet and taking medication for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as necessary, also are key.

For severe cases of PVD, you may need to undergo a minimally invasive procedure such as angioplasty, stent placement or plaque removal.

In the event these procedures are not possible, bypass surgery may be required. However, most cases of PVD can be handled with minimally invasive techniques.

Do You Have PVD?

To find a vascular surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Garland, visit our heart page or call 1.800.4BAYLOR.