Preventing Amputation: Know the Stages of Vascular Disease

Did you know that vascular disease is the top cause of lower-limb amputations? Conditions that restrict blood flow account for 54% of all amputations.

Central Coast Vein & Vascular specializes in preventing amputation by working closely with patients, identifying their risks and treating their vascular disease with therapies that restore healthy blood flow.

There’s only one catch. We can’t help you prevent amputation if you don’t recognize the symptoms and schedule a vascular evaluation. We devoted this blog to explaining the symptoms that arise as vascular disease goes through progressive stages.

Recognizing the stages of vascular disease

The risk of amputation primarily comes from two common vascular diseases, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and venous insufficiency. Both conditions are progressive diseases.

As they get worse and the disease progresses, you experience different symptoms. At each stage, your symptoms reflect the severity of your vascular disease.

If you recognize the signs of vascular disease and seek help before you reach an advanced stage, you have time to get treatment and prevent amputation.

Stages of venous insufficiency

These are the symptoms of venous insufficiency, beginning with the earliest and going forward in disease severity. Keep in mind that you may not have all the symptoms.

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are the earliest signs of venous insufficiency. Though spider veins can also signal underlying disease, you know you have a bigger underlying vascular problem when varicose veins appear in your legs.

These unsightly veins appear as one valve weakens and blood flows backward and builds up in the vein. This condition, called venous reflux, causes pressure in the vein, weakens the vein wall, and damages the next valve down in the vein.

As valves keep failing, blood accumulates in a new segment of the vein. In this fashion, your varicose veins keep expanding into their characteristic twisted, bulging appearance.

Leg pain and swelling

As venous insufficiency progresses and your varicose veins get worse, many people experience leg pain that feels like a general aching, cramping, and/or heavy-feeling legs. At this stage, you may also develop swelling in your lower legs and feet as fluids build up. 

Stasis dermatitis

Ever-increasing venous pressure forces fluids out of the veins in your lower leg. As a result, you develop an inflammatory skin condition with eczema-like symptoms such as redness, scaling, and itching.

Thickened, discolored skin

As venous insufficiency progresses, the skin in your lower leg turns reddish-brown, thick, and leathery.

Venous stasis ulcers

The final symptom to appear is an open wound called a venous stasis ulcer. These slow-healing ulcers typically occur around your ankle and need intensive wound care to heal.

Without treatment, venous ulcers expand and cause dangerous skin and bone infections. That’s when you’re at risk of amputation.

Stages of PAD

PAD symptoms include:

Leg pain

Leg pain is the earliest sign of PAD. This pain, called claudication, is different from the pain of venous insufficiency. PAD leg pain occurs when you walk, climb stairs, or get active. Then the pain goes away when you rest.

Pulse and temperature changes

As PAD blocks blood flow, it also affects the pulse in your lower leg and foot. Comparing the pulse in your foot with the readings in your arm reveals the presence of PAD. You may also notice that the affected leg feels cooler than the opposite leg.

Changes in leg and skin appearance

As the blockage enlarges, your skin doesn’t get enough nutrients, which in turn leads to changes in its appearance. The most common signs include diminished hair growth, shiny skin, and dark, discolored skin.

Leg pain when resting

The leg pain that was once relieved by resting now appears any time, even when you’re sitting down, lying down, or elevating your leg. Many patients also feel burning and cramping.

Resting pain that’s chronic and severe is a sure sign that blood flow is drastically diminished.

Arterial ulcers

As PAD reaches an advanced stage, the oxygen-deprived tissues develop an open wound. Like venous ulcers, arterial ulcers don’t heal on their own, they keep enlarging, and can cause serious infections. Arterial ulcers appear on your toes, heel, or around the ankle.

Critical limb ischemia

Critical limb ischemia occurs when tissues die due to lack of oxygen. That’s when gangrene develops, causing blisters, patches of dark skin, pain, and a foul-smelling discharge. At this advanced stage of PAD, many patients end up needing an amputation.

If you want to protect your health and prevent amputation, don’t ignore leg pain and don’t wait for an ulcer to appear. At the earliest sign of vascular disease, call Central Coast Vein & Vascular or schedule an appointment through the online booking system.

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