Buerger’s Disease: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Buerger’s disease is a rare disease that affects the small- and medium-sized arteries, veins, and nerves in the arms and legs. Another name for this condition is thromboangiitis obliterans. It can cause inflammation and swelling of blood vessels, resulting in blood clots.

The most common and direct reason for Buerger’s disease is the use of cigarettes or other forms of tobacco. The condition is found worldwide and can affect people of any race and age group. However, Asian and Middle Eastern men between the ages of 40 and 45 who heavily use, or have heavily used tobacco products are at the greatest risk of developing it.

Causes

Generally, Buerger’s disease begins by causing your arteries to swell and blood clots to form in your blood vessels. This blocks normal blood flow, resulting in a lack of blood supply and tissue death because the tissues are starved of nutrients and oxygen.

The exact cause of Buerger’s disease is still unclear. Data show that people who smoke heavily are more susceptible to the disorder, although scientists don’t know the exact reason. They suspect that chemicals in tobacco may irritate the lining of your blood vessels, causing them to swell.

Also, experts have found that some people may
have a genetic predisposition to the disease. They also indicate that Buerger’s
disease may be triggered by an autoimmune response in which the body’s immune
system attacks normal tissues mistakenly.

Risk factors for Buerger’s disease include:

  • Tobacco use

Tobacco products greatly increase your risk of Buerger’s disease, involving cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

  • Sex

Men are more likely to be affected than
women. More recently, however, a higher percentage of women have been recognized
to develop this disease.

  • Age

The disease often first appears in people younger
than 45 years old. But people from other age groups can have it too.

  • Ethnic group

Buerger’s disease is most common in the Orient, Southeast Asia, India and the Middle East, but appears to be rare among African-Americans.

  • Health condition

Long-term infection of the gums has been
linked to the development of Buerger’s disease, though it’s not clear how it
does so.

Symptoms

Buerger’s disease usually starts with pain
in the areas affected, followed by weakness. The typical signs and symptoms
include:

  • Pain in your hands and feet that spreads to your legs and arms
  • Painful open sores on your toes or fingers
  • Numbness and/or tingling in the limbs
  • Inflamed veins
  • Pale, red or blue fingers and toes
  • Pale toes or fingers when in cold temperatures, which is known as Raynaud’s phenomenon

Diagnosis

There exists no single test that can tell if you have Buerger’s disease. First, your doctor will ask you about tobacco use and your symptoms. Afterwards, he or she may arrange some tests to help confirm the diagnosis and rule out other diseases that can cause similar symptoms. These tests include:

  • Angiograms of the upper and lower extremities to show blockages or narrowing in multiple areas of both the arms and legs

  • Blood tests to help see if there are other diseases that may cause your symptoms, such as lupus, diabetes, or blood clotting disorders

  • Allen test

This is to check blood flow to your hands.
During the test, you need to make a tight fist, which forces the blood out of
your hand. Your doctor presses on the arteries at each side of your wrist to
slow the flow of blood back into your hand, making your hand lose its normal
color.

Next, you open your hand and your doctor releases the pressure on one artery, then the other. How quickly the color returns to your hand may give a general indication about the health of your arteries. Slow blood flows into your hand may indicate a problem, such as Buerger’s disease.

Treatment

There exists no cure for Buerger’s disease.
Quitting smoking the most important
and useful way to improve symptoms and prevent its progression.

Other lifestyle
changes
that may help include drinking plenty of fluids and exercising more
to increase the circulation in your body. Medications
that dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow or dissolve blood clots can also
help treat Buerger’s disease but less effective.

In rare cases, the pain may be so severe that a surgical procedure called a sympathectomy may be performed to eliminate the pain. If infection or gangrene occurs, you may need to receive amputation.



Keywords: Buerger’s disease; thromboangiitis obliterans.

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