An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Peripheral arterial disease; PAD; Peripheral vascular disease;
In severe cases, surgery may be needed to open blocked blood vessels. Many surgical procedures can be performed. These include open bypass procedures, which connect an artery before the location of the obstruction to an artery below the obstruction, or minimally invasive endovascular techniques such as angioplasty and stenting. The location of the lesions and how many other risk factors and illnesses patients have often determine which procedure is chosen.
Surgery is generally performed for claudication that has become disabling despite full medical and exercise therapy. Surgery may also be necessary for patients with rest pain, and to save a limb when a patient develops critical limb ischemia and is in danger of amputation.
For many years, leg bypass surgery was the main type of surgery used for extensive PAD. This procedure involves the creation of a tube (graft) that acts as a new blood vessel. Grafts can be made from synthetic material (artificial vein) or from a vein taken from a different location in the patient's leg (natural vein). The graft reroutes blood flow in the leg, around the blocked artery. Possible bypass connections between arteries include aorta to iliac arteries, aorta to femoral arteries, and bypass between the femoral artery and popliteal, tibial, and peroneal arteries.
Artificial veins tend to pose a much higher risk for blood clots, and the consequences of re-blockage are must more severe than when the natural vein recloses. To keep the artificial vein open, oral anti-clotting drugs such as aspirin, heparin, or warfarin, may be used. (Such drugs do not work at all with natural vein bypass.)
In general, less invasive surgical procedures, such as balloon angioplasty and stenting, are now more frequently performed.
Percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA) is an approach that has several variations. The object of the procedure is to open the blocked blood vessels that are causing intermittent claudication. Angioplasty is being increasingly used in place of leg bypass surgery, especially in patients who have other medical conditions.
The PTA procedure requires only a local anesthetic. Patients can return to normal activity in 24 - 48 hours. Complication rates are low. The effects are not permanent, but the procedure can be repeated without any greater risk than with the original one.
Anticoagulants (such as warfarin or heparin) and antiplatelets (such as aspirin) may used to prevent blood clots occurring during surgery. All of these drugs increase the risk for bleeding. Thrombolytic drugs may be used before, during, or after angioplasty if a blood clot is present.
Balloon Angioplasty. The standard procedure is balloon angioplasty. A thin tube is inserted through an artery in the groin and passed through the blocked artery. A wire is threaded through the tube. A deflated balloon is passed over the wire to the blockage. When inflated, it opens the artery.
Because of the risk for reclosure from blood clots after balloon angioplasty, various other procedures are used or are being investigated.
Stenting. Reclosure of the blood vessels from blood clotting, even long after surgery, is an important complication. To help prevent this complication, and repeat surgery, a tiny expandable metal mesh tube (stent) is often used along with angioplasty. However, even with stents, some patients experience new blockages within a year of surgery. Some angioplasties are performed with a drug-eluting stent, which is coated with the drug paclitaxel to help prevent artery blockages.
Drug-eluting stents may not be recommended for patients who had recent heart surgery, or women who are nursing or pregnant. Patients who receive a drug-eluting stent may need blood thinning drugs for at least several months.
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