Are You Familiar with the Different Types of Peripheral Vascular Disease?


Doctors refer to peripheral vascular disease, however, the term includes several different conditions. Under the classification of peripheral vascular disease, one might be referring to Deep Vein Thrombosis (a.k.a. DVT), Varicose Veins, Chronic Venous Insufficiency, Thrombophlebitis, Atherosclerosis, Thromboangiitis Obliterans (Buerger’s Disease), or Raynaud’s Phenomenon.

varicose vein treatment

Let’s take this opportunity to provide a brief overview of each one. But first, it is important to know the difference between deep veins and superficial veins.

Deep veins are larger veins located within the leg muscles. These veins return nearly all the body’s blood supply back to the heart, pushing the blood upward against the force of gravity.

Superficial veins are smaller veins located just beneath the surface of the skin. They pump a smaller volume of blood back to the heart. When people seek spider vein removal or varicose vein treatment, they are referring to superficial veins.

And now, back to peripheral vascular disease.


Deep Vein Thrombosis

The medical term for a blood clot is a thromb; and deep vein thrombosis refers to blood clots or thrombs that form in the veins deep within the muscle groups in the legs. Symptoms of DVT include pain, swelling, and cramping of the leg. In some cases, the area appears bluish or purple, and may be warmer in terms of temperature in relation to the rest of the body.

DVT is a very serious condition, because at any moment, the blood clot can break free, follow the path of blood back to the lungs to be oxygenated, where it may block a pulmonary artery. This is known as a pulmonary embolism, and is a life-threatening emergency.



Keeping in mind that blood clots are referred to as thrombs, the name thrombophlebitis describes a blood clot that usually occurs in the superficial veins closer to  the skin’s surface, as opposed to Deep Vein Thrombosis. Symptoms of thrombophlebitis can range from pain, swelling and discoloration, to disruption of normal circulation in the limbs or extremities, and even fever. A venogram, CT scan or MRI can determine the location of the blood clot. A vascular surgeon would determine if the treatment would involve vein stripping, or anticoagulant medication which can break down and diminish the blood clot.


Varicose Veins

Despite many online claims, there is no known topical or natural remedy for varicose vein treatment or spider vein treatment. Varicose veins and spider veins are caused when the one-way valves that move blood along toward the heart become damaged, causing blood to flow backward and pool in the damaged vein area. This is what causes the reddish-purple appearance of the varicose veins. There is nothing a cream or herbal remedy can do to repair the damaged vein. The only solution is to close the damaged vein, and reroute the blood flow through nearby healthy veins.

Treatment for varicose veins and spider veins involves little or no pain, as well little or no downtime. If the varicose vein condition is left untreated and begins to worsen, the patient will feel pain and fatigue in the affected area. Varicose treatment and spider vein treatment are performed by vascular surgeons using laser treatment or sclerotherapy.


Chronic Venous Insufficiency

While varicose veins and spider veins can be considered insufficiencies of the superficial veins, when the condition becomes chronic and spreads to include the deeper veins, it is known as Chronic Venous Insufficiency. This condition may also be attributed to a genetic venous valve insufficiency. CVI is very serious, and often leads to infections and chronic skin ulcers.



Most people are familiar with, or have at least heard the term Atherosclerosis, due to the condition’s prevalence and severity. The disease occurs when the smooth walls of the arteries deteriorate in condition to where they become rough and therefore, allow plaque from low density lipids (cholesterol) and microphage white blood cells to build up progressively, until the arteries become too narrow for adequate blood flow.

Although they sound similar, this condition is not to be confused with Arteriosclerosis, wherein the arterial walls become hardened.


Thromboangiitis Obliterans (Buerger’s Disease)

Thromboangiitis Obliterans involves chronic thrombosis occurring in the small-to-medium sized veins in the legs. The extensive blood clotting causes thrombophlebitis, ulceration, and even gangrene or necrosis. Symptoms include pain, discoloration, swelling, necrosis, and difficulty detecting a pulse in the affected extremities. The disease is more common among smokers, as well as those with a history or genetic predisposition to heart disease or diabetes. Causes for atherosclerosis include smoking, genetics, diabetes and/or high blood sugar, with smoking being the most prominent causal factor.


Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Raynaud’s Phenomenon occurs in the extremities, usually fingertips or toes, causing blood vessels to constrict and limit blood flow. Fingers or toes may appear white or blue while circulation is cut off, then will appear reddish in color as circulation returns. Patients report that the sudden, diminished circulation correlates with exposure to cold temperatures, as well as stress. Treatment includes lifestyle changes to keep warm and improve circulation, and prescription of calcium channel blockers or alpha blockers to increase blood flow.


The San Diego Vascular Center specializes in diagnosis and treatment for any and all vascular health issues for patients in San Diego County, Orange County and Riverside County. For more information or to set an appointment, please contact us.



Kesieme E, Kesieme C, Jebbin N, Irekpita E, Dongo A. Deep vein thrombosis: a clinical review. Journal of blood medicine.
2011;2:59-69. doi:10.2147/JBM.S19009.


Eberhardt, Robert T., Chronic Venous Insufficiency. 2005. Circulation, Volume 111, Issue 18.