Blocked blood vessels of legs are most commonly manifested by sudden-onset pain while walking and medication treatment is initially considered to control the condition. If medical treatment and lifestyle changes do not help the problem, other approaches are utilized that include balloon dilatation, stents and surgery.
Atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of arteries) occurs in vascular system, but it most commonly involves arteries that supply blood to heart and brain, arteries of the neck and arteries of legs. Although the condition may involve arteries of heart, legs and brain simultaneously in some patients, the condition may occur only in legs in others. Blockage in blood vessels of legs is mostly manifested by pain that occurs while walking. Therefore, it is necessary to consider a problem in blood vessels of legs, when this symptom emerges. Causative factors of atherosclerosis also apply to occlusion in blood vessels of legs. Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery Soner Sanioğlu, M.D., from Yeditepe University Kozyatağı Hospital expresses that atherosclerosis can be seen in patients with commonly known risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and family history of vascular disease: “Patients may, sometimes, disregard the pain that is induced by walking. However, this symptom may be associated with open wounds, pain at rest and even loss of limbs at advanced stages.”
Pain in blood vessels of legs may also be a sign of a generalized vascular disorder. In this case, blood vessels of heart and neck should also be assessed. Expressing that the patients with a medical problem in blood vessels of legs face troubles mostly due to blood vessels of heart, Professor Soner Sanioğlu, M.D., explains the signs that require attention: “If the pain causes cessation of walking, it is necessary to be suspicious and have necessary tests done. The pain manifests when walking, relieves with rest and recurs thereafter. Upon occurrence of pain, one acts as if window shopping in order to hide the symptom from others. This is why the condition is also called "window shopper’s disease”. There may be other underlying causes, but vascular disorders are the most common one.”
Non-invasive techniques, such as an ultrasound scan, can help diagnosis of vascular occlusion in some cases, while invasive methods, such as angiography, is required in others. The first-line treatment is medication therapy, if the pain occurs only while walking, it does not affect the social life, there is no risk of loss of limb or if the patient does not have a wound. Unless the desired result is obtained, two options are taken into consideration. Blood vessels are dilated with balloon or stent or blood circulation is restored surgically in legs. Emphasizing that all vascular occlusions should be treated, but full patency is not required for all cases, Professor Soner Sanioğlu, M.D. says: “Self-care is the most important approach for this disease that affects the life very significantly. It is important to take certain drugs regularly that reduce the risk and to make some lifestyle modifications. For example; if one keeps smoking or does not take medications regularly after patency is restored in coronary arteries, risk of heart attack increases. Therefore, treatment is a must; the patient should be encouraged to make lifestyle changes and its importance should be strongly expressed. Invasive treatment is needed for cases that do not respond to medication treatment. Surgery, balloon dilatation or stent… Additionally, certain other methods can be utilized with atherectomy devices. Thus, the most accurate and better treatment option for each patient depends both on patient characteristics and co-existing health problems as well as a number of other factors. The condition should be assessed in a personalized manner or in line with the principle “there is no disease, but the patient. Stent is preferred better if the occlusion is at proximal part and involves a short segment. Surgery takes the lead for long-segment and long-standing occlusions. However, there is another point: If balloon dilatation or stent placement is considered for the treatment, chance of a future surgery should not be eliminated".
If a person with a documented family history of cardiac or vascular disease experience pain and needs to rest when walking, it is necessary to seek medical attention. It might point to an underlying vascular disease, although it is not always the case. Professor of Cardiovacular Surgery Soner Sanioğlu, M.D., from Yeditepe University Hospital emphasizes that similar signs may emerge in stenotic spinal canal and certain venous diseases and he clarifies the measures that should be taken in order to protect the vascular health: “Since genetic factors cannot be modified, one should regulate the hypertension, if any, prefer Mediterranean diet, quit smoking and exercise to protect the vascular health.”
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