,The blood flow, through an extensive network of blood vessels, brings vital blood (and thus oxygen) to tissues and organs. The heart is the starting point of arteries, that carry oxygenated blood. Via smaller and smaller branchings, blood reaches organs, muscles, nerves and skin in our body. Here, microscopic branchings, the capillaries, transfer oxygen to cells. Then blood, rich in carbon dioxide, goes back to the heart through veins and gathers new oxygen going through the lungs.

Thus the blood flow is a continuous system, fundamental for our health and our well-being. However, sometimes there may be problems. For instance, some people develop peripheral arterial obstructive disease. A condition that may be particularly dangerous and crippling, as Doctor Elisa Casabianca, vascular surgeon at Humanitas, explained.

What is peripheral arterial obstructive disease?

Peripheral arterial obstructive disease is an ailment that depends on a buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in arteries, hindering the blood flow or even obstructing them.

When a tissue or an organ does not get enough oxygen, an ischemia will start. Without the proper cure, this will lead to the necrosis of that very tissue.

Chronic peripheral arterial obstructive disease affects arteries in legs.

Muscles that do not get enough oxygen to work properly, due to the obstruction of the blood flow, elicit cramps while the patient is walking. When this situation worsens, feet may hurt during the night too. In the most severe cases, ulcer and cancrena may happen too.

How is the diagnosis done?

“The first step is listening carefully to what the patient says about the symptoms”, Doctor Casabianca explains. “In fact, the symptoms are extremely typical. If patients report them during a surgical vascular visit, where the specialist manually feels the arterial blood flow in legs, they help formulate a diagnosis”.

The second crucial step is the EchoColorDoppler exam. This method associates the ultrasound imaging of blood vessels to the Doppler method. This way, we are able to ascertain how the blood flows inside them. Thus, possible obstructions and their extension are located precisely.

What is the cure?

It is necessary to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to block the risk factors, that smoking and hypercholesterolemia mainly cause. Keeping the risk factors under control is not enough anymore. It is paramount to make the blood flow through to tissues again.

It is possible to try reopening ill arteries via slightly invasive surgeries, such as a balloon angioplasty (with or without a stent).

In other cases, it is necessary to intervene surgically either removing manually the plaque from the artery, or creating a by-pass to make the blood ignore the occluded area in its flow towards the periphery of the body.