Thromboangiitis obliterans commonly develops in smokers.
Symptoms are those of reduced blood flow to an extremity: coldness, numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation.
Ultrasonography is often used to detect decreased blood flow in the affected extremity.
Stopping smoking is the most important part of treatment.
People may also need to take drugs.
Thromboangiitis obliterans is a rare type of occlusive peripheral arterial disease Occlusive Peripheral Arterial Disease Occlusive peripheral arterial disease is blockage or narrowing of an artery in the legs (or rarely the arms), usually due to atherosclerosis and resulting in decreased blood flow. Symptoms depend... read more that usually develops in smokers, most commonly in men aged 20 to 40 years. Thromboangiitis obliterans was once considered a man’s disease, but it is becoming increasingly common among women who smoke.
How cigarette smoking relates to thromboangiitis obliterans is poorly understood, and what causes the disease is unknown. One theory is that smoking triggers inflammation and narrowing (constriction) of arteries. However, only a small number of smokers develop thromboangiitis obliterans. Some people may be more susceptible than others for as yet unknown reasons. Nonetheless, thromboangiitis obliterans invariably worsens in people who continue to smoke, and amputation is commonly required. In contrast, if people with thromboangiitis obliterans quit smoking, amputation is rarely required.
Symptoms of Thromboangiitis Obliterans
Usually, symptoms of a reduced blood supply to the arms or legs develop gradually. Symptoms include
Tingling or burning sensation
These abnormal sensations start at the fingertips or toes and progress up the legs or arms. The legs are affected more often than the arms. People may feel abnormal sensations before their doctor sees any skin changes indicating an inadequate blood supply (ischemia) or gangrene. Raynaud syndrome Raynaud Syndrome Raynaud syndrome, a functional peripheral arterial disease, is a condition in which small arteries (arterioles), usually in the fingers or toes, narrow (constrict) more tightly than normal in... read more and muscle discomfort during exertion (intermittent claudication Symptoms ) may develop. Cramps occur in the calf muscles or feet if the legs are affected and in the hands or forearms if the arms are affected.
As the disease progresses, cramps become more painful and last longer. Late in the disease, skin ulcers, gangrene, or both may appear, usually on one or more toes or fingers. The foot or hand feels cold and may turn bluish (cyanosis), probably because blood flow is greatly reduced.
Some people with thromboangiitis obliterans also have episodes of inflammation in the veins (migratory phlebitis Superficial Venous Thrombosis Superficial venous thrombosis is inflammation and clotting in a superficial vein, usually in the arms or legs. The skin over the vein becomes red, swollen, and painful. Doctors examine the area... read more ), usually in the superficial veins.
Diagnosis of Thromboangiitis Obliterans
A doctor's evaluation of symptoms
Usually, doctors suspect thromboangiitis obliterans on the basis of symptoms and results of the physical examination. In most people, the pulse is weak or absent in one or more arteries of the feet or wrists. Often, the affected hands, feet, fingers, or toes become pale when raised above the heart and red when lowered. Ultrasonography detects a substantial decrease in blood pressure and blood flow in the affected feet, toes, hands, and fingers. Blood tests and imaging to exclude other causes of decreased blood flow (such as vessel inflammation or vasculitis and blood clots from the heart) are done.
Angiography Angiography Angiography is a type of medical imaging that uses x-rays and a contrast agent to produce images of blood vessels. In angiography, x-rays are used to produce detailed images of blood vessels... read more can detect specific patterns of narrowing and thus can help confirm the diagnosis.
Sometimes a biopsy (removal of a tissue sample for examination under a microscope) of the affected artery or referral to a specialist is needed to confirm the diagnosis of thromboangiitis obliterans.
Treatment of Thromboangiitis Obliterans
Sometimes drugs or surgery
Stopping smoking Smoking Cessation Most people who smoke want to quit and have tried doing so with limited success. Effective tools to help quit smoking include counseling, nicotine replacement products, and medications. While... read more immediately is essential, or symptoms will relentlessly worsen. Amputation is then likely to become necessary.
Avoiding exposure to cold, which causes blood vessels to narrow (constrict) is helpful.
Avoiding certain drugs and medications is also helpful. Drugs and medications to avoid include those that cause blood vessels to constrict (such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylephrine, which are components of some sinus congestion and cold remedies), cocaine and amphetamines, and those that increase the tendency of blood to clot (such as estrogen in birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy).
Preventing injury to the affected leg or arm is important. People should take care to avoid burns and injuries due to cold or minor surgery (such as trimming calluses). Corns and calluses should be treated by a podiatrist. Wearing shoes that fit well and have wide toe spaces can help prevent injury to the feet.
Medications, that dilate blood vessels, such as iloprost, may help heal ulcers and reduce pain in people who quit smoking but still have blocked arteries. Other medications, such as pentoxifylline and calcium channel blockers, may be tried to help open blood vessels but are probably not very effective.
Surgery may be done to cut certain nearby nerves (a procedure called sympathectomy) and prevent blood vessels from constricting. These procedures are seldom done because they usually improve blood flow only temporarily.
The following English-language resources may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of these resources.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Smoking and Buerger’s Disease: General information about thromboangiitis obliterans, including symptoms and treatment as well as tips and help for quitting smoking
Vascular Cures: Buerger's disease: General information on symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment of thromboangiitis obliterans
Drugs Mentioned In This Article
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