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Buerger’s Disease

Buerger’s disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) is one of many types of vasculitis. This is inflammation that involves your blood vessels. Buerger’s disease causes a tightening, or a blockage, of the blood vessels in your feet and hands. When blood doesn’t flow well to your hands and feet, you may experience pain, especially during activity, and tissue damage. In the most extreme cases, sores (ulcers) appear on your fingers and toes. They can become infected and cause gangrene. In a small number of people, Buerger’s disease reduces blood flow to the  heart, belly, or brain.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Buerger’s disease include:

  • Pain in your lower legs or feet when walking

  • Pain in your hands or forearms

  • Blood clots

  • Ulcers on your toes and fingers

  • Raynaud’s syndrome, a narrowing of blood vessels in your hands and sometimes your toes

Who’s at risk

People at the greatest risk for Buerger's disease are those who are heavy smokers. Men of Asian or Eastern European descent who are between ages 20 and 40 seem to be especially vulnerable.

Diagnosis

To make a diagnosis, your physician will consider:

  • Your overall health and medical history

  • Your description of symptoms

  • Lifestyle choices, such as whether you smoke

  • A physical exam

  • Blood tests

  • Imaging tests to assess tissue damage

Treatment

Treatment recommendations may depend on how far your disease has progressed. Options include:

  • Stopping all smoking and other forms of tobacco use

  • Having surgery to bring blood to the affected tissues (people who have smoked for more than 20 years are more likely to need surgery)

Complications

Complications are problems caused by your condition. Possible complications from Buerger’s disease include:

  • Changes in the way you walk or move due to pain

  • Ulcers

  • Tissue damage or tissue death

  • Gangrene

  • Amputation

Prevention

You can prevent Buerger’s disease by not smoking.

When to call the doctor

Talk to your doctor if you have:

  • Pain in your lower legs, feet, hands, or forearms that continues to get worse

  • Sores on your hands or feet that do not heal

  • Signs of infection in the affected areas

How to manage or live with the condition

Follow your doctor’s recommendations for taking care of yourself. The best way to stop or slow Buerger’s disease is to stop using tobacco completely. Talk with your doctor if you need help with a tobacco cessation plan.