arterial occlusive disease

Also found in: Acronyms.

ar·te·ri·al oc·clu·sive dis·ease

(ahr-tēr'ē-ăl ŏ-klū'siv di-zēz')
Obstruction of a major artery, resulting in ischemia distal to the obstruction. Usually refers to the femoral, popliteal, or innominate arteries. Signs include mottling, pallor, coolness, paralysis/paresthesia of the affected limb, pulselessness, and sudden pain of affected limb. May also affect internal, external carotid arteries, subclavian artery, vertebral and basilar arteries. Causes include atherosclerosis, emboli, thrombosis, trauma, and fracture.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012

Arterial Occlusive Disease

DRG Category:253
Mean LOS:5.9 days
Description:SURGICAL: Other Vascular Procedures with CC
DRG Category:299
Mean LOS:5.8 days
Description:MEDICAL: Peripheral Vascular Disorders with Major CC

Arterial occlusive disease, and in particular peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD), is characterized by reduced blood flow through the major blood vessels of the body because of an obstruction or narrowing of the lumen of the aorta and its major branches. Changes in the arterial wall include the accumulation of lipids, calcium, blood components, carbohydrates, and fibrous tissue in the endothelial lining. When a person is at rest, normal blood flow to the muscles of the extremities is 300 to 400 mm/minute, but with exercise, blood flow increases 10 times the normal amount. While patients with PAOD have normal resting blood flow, blood flow to the muscles cannot increase during exercise because of arterial stenoses. When the metabolic demands of the muscle exceed blood flow, the patient experiences claudication (ischemic muscle pain). Arterial occlusive disease, which may be chronic or acute, may affect the celiac, mesenteric, innominate, subclavian, carotid, and vertebral arteries. Arterial disorders that may lead to arterial obstruction include arteriosclerosis obliterans, thromboangiitis obliterans, arterial embolism, and an aneurysm of the lower extremity. A sudden occlusion usually causes tissue ischemia and death, whereas a gradual blockage allows for the development of collateral vessels. Usually, arterial occlusive diseases are only part of a complex disease syndrome that affects the entire body. Complications include severe ischemia, skin ulceration, gangrene, leg amputation, and sepsis.


Arteries can become occluded by atherosclerotic plaque, thrombi, or emboli. Single or multiple arterial stenoses produce reduced blood flow to the limbs. Subsequent obstruction and damage to the vessels can follow chemical or mechanical trauma and infections or inflammatory processes. Arteriosclerosis obliterans is marked by plaque formation on the intimal wall of medium-sized arteries, causing partial occlusion. In addition, there is calcification of the media and a loss of elasticity that predisposes the patient to dilation or thrombus formation. Thromboangiitis obliterans (Buerger’s disease), which is characterized by an inflammatory infiltration of vessel walls, develops in the small arteries and veins (hands and feet) and tends to be episodic. Risk factors include tobacco use (most important risk factor), hyperlipidemia, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Genetic considerations

Familial forms of arterial occlusive disease have been reported, and genetic risk factors may contribute to the various subtypes of vascular disease. A locus strongly linked to the disease has been identified on chromosome 1. On 15q24, a mutation in the CHRNA3 gene is associated with arterial occlusive disease, along with a predisposition to nicotine dependence and lung cancer.

Gender, ethnic/racial, and life span considerations

Thromboangiitis obliterans, a causative factor for arterial occlusive disease, typically occurs in male smokers between the ages of 20 and 40. Arterial insufficiency usually occurs in individuals over 50 years of age and is more common in men than women. PAOD affects 20% of people over 70 years of age in the United States. Ethnicity and race have no known effect on the risk of most arterial occlusive diseases. Buerger’s disease is more common in men than in women and most typically occurs between age 20 to 45.

Global health considerations

Buerger’s disease has a high incidence in people from Southeast Asia and Jews of Ashkenazi descent.



Elicit a history of previous illnesses or surgeries that were vascular in nature; ask if the patient has been diagnosed with arterial occlusive disease in the past. Determine if a positive family history exists for hypertension or vascular disorders in first-order relatives. Ask if the patient smokes cigarettes; eats a diet high in fats; leads a sedentary lifestyle; or is subject to emotional stress, anxiety, or ulcers. Determine if the patient has experienced any pain, swelling, redness, or pallor. Establish a history of signs and symptoms that may point to the site of occlusion. Determine if the patient has experienced any transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) because of reduced cerebral circulation. Elicit a history of such signs and symptoms as unilateral sensory or motor dysfunction, difficulty in speaking (aphasia), confusion, difficulty with concentration, or headaches, all of which are signs of possible carotid artery involvement. Ask if the patient has experienced signs of vertebrobasilar artery involvement, such as binocular visual disturbances, vertigo, dysarthria, or episodes of falling down. Determine if the patient has experienced lameness in the right arm (claudication), which is a sign of possible innominate artery involvement.

The specific finding in PAOD is intermittent claudication. The pain is insidious in onset, occurring with exercise and relieved by resting for 2 to 5 minutes; determining how much physical activity is needed before the onset of pain is crucial. The onset of pain is often related to a particular walking distance in terms of street blocks, which helps to quantify patients with some standard measure of walking distance before and after therapy.

Determine if the patient’s mesenteric artery is involved by asking if he or she has experienced acute abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Ask the patient if she or he has experienced numbness, tingling (paresthesia), paralysis, muscle weakness, or sudden pain in both legs, which are all signs of aortic bifurcation occlusion. Determine if the patient has experienced sporadic claudication of the lower back, buttocks, and thighs or impotence in male patients, all of which are indicators of iliac artery occlusion. Elicit a history of sporadic claudication of the patient’s calves after exertion; ask if the patient has experienced pain in the feet—these are signs of femoral and popliteal artery involvement.

Physical examination

Observe both legs, noting alterations in color or temperature of the affected limb. Cold, pale legs may suggest aortic bifurcation occlusion. Inspect the patient’s legs for signs of cyanosis, ulcers, or gangrene. Limb perfusion may be inadequate, resulting in thickened and opaque nails, shiny and atrophic skin, decreased hair growth, dry or fissured heels, and loss of subcutaneous tissue in the digits. Check the patient’s skin on a daily basis.

The most important part of the examination is palpation of the peripheral pulses. Absence of a normally palpable pulse is the most reliable sign of occlusive disease. Comparison of pulses in both extremities is helpful. Ascertain, also, whether the arterial wall is palpable, tortuous, or calcified. Auscultation over the main arteries is useful, as a bruit (sound produced by turbulent flow of blood through an irregular or stenotic lumen) often indicates an atheromatous plaque. A bruit over the right side of the neck is a possible indication of innominate artery involvement.


Occlusive diseases are chronic or lead to chronic illness. They are usually slow in onset, and much irreversible vascular damage may have occurred before symptoms are severe enough to bring the patient for treatment. Treatment is often long and tedious and brings additional concerns regarding finances, curtailment of usual social outlets, and innumerable other problems. Assess the patient’s ability to cope with a chronic illness.

Diagnostic highlights

TestNormal ResultAbnormality With ConditionExplanation
Ultrasound arteriography (Doppler ultrasonography)Negative for presence of aneurysm or atherosclerosis or thrombus; normal blood flow velocityNarrowed lumen, reduced blood velocity, or bothReflects the velocity of blood flowing in the underlying vessel, structure, and size
Segmental arterial pressure monitoringBlood pressure readings in thigh and calf are higher than in upper extremitiesBlood pressure readings in thigh and calf are lower than in upper extremities with the presence of arterial diseaseSimultaneous sphygmomanometer readings of systolic pressure placed on the extremities to measure pressure differences between upper and lower and between like extremities

Other Tests: Magnetic resonance angiography, computerized tomographic angiography, plethysmography, ophthalmodynamometry, digital vascular imaging, arteriogram, exercise testing, magnetic resonance imaging

Primary nursing diagnosis


Altered tissue perfusion (peripheral) related to decreased arterial flow.


Fluid balance; Muscle function; Tissue integrity: Peripheral


Circulatory care; Circulatory precautions; Fluid management; Medication management; Peripheral sensation management; Positioning; Pressure ulcer prevention; Skin surveillance; Embolus precautions; Exercise therapy

Planning and implementation


Surgery is indicated for patients who have advanced arterial disease or for those with severe pain that impairs activities. Surgical procedures include arterial bypass surgery, embolectomy, angioplasty, sympathectomy, and amputation.

If arteriosclerosis obliterans is rapidly progressing or has not responded to conservative management and intermittent claudication has become disabling, lower extremity arterial bypass is performed. The femoropopliteal arterial segment is the most common site of occlusion. The diseased femoropopliteal segment can be bypassed with a synthetic prosthetic material (Teflon or Dacron), or an autogenous vein graft, such as with the saphenous vein, can be performed. Care following femoropopliteal bypass is the same as for other arterial surgery.

perioperative care.
In the preoperative stage, assess the patient’s circulatory status by observing skin color and temperature and checking peripheral pulses. Provide analgesia as needed. Use an infusion monitor or pump to administer heparin intravenously. Note any signs of cerebrovascular accident, such as periodic blindness or numbness in a limb.

Pharmacologic highlights

Medication or Drug ClassDosageDescriptionRationale
Aspirin80–325 mgAntiplateletInhibits prostaglandin synthesis, which prevents formation of platelet-aggregating thromboxane A2
AnticoagulantsVaries by drugProlongs clotting timePrevents extension of a clot and inhibits further clot formation
FibrinolyticsVaries by drugDissolves existing thrombiUsed when required to preserve organ and limb function

Other Drugs: Intermittent claudication caused by chronic arterial occlusive disease may be treated with pentoxifylline (Trental), which can improve blood flow through the capillaries by increasing red blood cell flexibility. Antiplatelet agents: dipyridamole, ticlopidine, clopidogrel bisulfate (Plavix), cilostazol (Pletal); Anticoagulant: enoxaparin sodium (Lovenox).


prevention and teaching.
Emphasize to the patient the need to quit smoking or using tobacco and limit caffeine intake. Recommend maintaining a warm environmental temperature of about 21°C (70°F) to prevent chilling. Teach the patient to avoid elevating the legs or using the knee gatch on the bed to keep legs in a slightly dependent position for periods during the day, to avoid crossing the legs at the knees or ankles, and to wear support stockings. Explain why the patient needs to avoid pressure and vigorous massage on the affected extremity and recommend the use of padding for ischemic areas.

Stress the importance of regular aerobic exercise to the patient. Explain that activity improves circulation through muscle contraction and relaxation. Exercise also stimulates collateral circulation that increases blood flow to the ischemic area. Recommend 30 to 40 minutes of activity with warm-up and cool-down activities on alternate days. Also suggest walking at a slow pace and performing ankle rotations, ankle pumps, and knee extensions daily. Recommend Buerger-Allen exercises if indicated. If intermittent claudication is present, stress to the patient the importance of allowing adequate time for rest between exercise and of monitoring one’s tolerance for exercise.

Provide good skin care and teach the patient to monitor and protect the skin. Recommend the use of moisturizing lotion for dry areas and demonstrate meticulous foot care. Advise the patient to wear cotton socks and comfortable, protective shoes at all times and to change socks daily. Advise the patient to seek professional advice for thickened or deformed nails, blisters, corns, and calluses. Stress the importance of avoiding the application of direct heat to the skin. The patient also needs to know that arterial disorders are usually chronic. Medical follow-up is necessary at the onset of skin breakdown such as abrasions, lesions, or ulcerations to prevent advanced disease with necrosis.

Evidence-Based Practice and Health Policy

Aubert, C.E., Cluzel, P., Kemel, S., Michel, P.L., Lajat-Kiss, F., Dadon, M., …Bourron, O. (2013). Influence of peripheral vascular calcification on efficiency of screening tests for peripheral arterial occlusive disease in diabetes—a cross-sectional study. Diabetic Medicine. Advanced online publication. doi 10.1111/dme.12309

  • Pulse palpation and determination of the ankle brachial index are commonly recommended to screen for PAOD.
  • In one study, investigators examined the efficacy of these screening measures among a sample of 200 diabetic patients, of whom 39.5% were subsequently diagnosed with PAOD using ultrasonography. The dorsalis pedis and posterior tibial pulses were palpated by a single physician and graded as normal, weak, or missing. Ankle brachial indexes were determined by measuring posterior tibial and brachial arterial systolic blood pressures with a Doppler.
  • Missing pulses alone demonstrated 69.2% sensitivity in detecting PAOD, compared to missing and/or weak pulses, which demonstrated 90% sensitivity (p < 0.0001). However, specificities for ruling out participants without PAOD was 71.9% for missing pulses alone but only 38.9% for missing and/or weak pulses (p < 0.0001). The ankle brachial index alone demonstrated a sensitivity of 42.3% and specificity of 80%.
  • Using both missing and/or weak pulses along with the ankle brachial index had the highest sensitivity in identifying patients with PAOD (92.3%) but the lowest specificity in ruling out patients without PAOD (32.6%) (p < 0.0001).

Documentation guidelines

  • Physical findings: Presence of redness, pallor, skin temperature, peripheral pulses, trophic changes, asymmetrical changes in pulse quality, capillary blanch, condition of skin
  • Neurological deficits: Tenderness to touch, lameness, sensory or motor dysfunction
  • Response to balanced activity: Lameness, pain, level of activity that produces pain
  • Presence of complications: Infection, ulcers, gangrene, loss pulses
  • Adherence to the rehabilitation program: Attitude toward exercise, changes in symptoms as response to exercise

Discharge and home healthcare guidelines

To prevent arterial occlusive disease from progressing, teach the patient to decrease as many risk factors as possible. Quitting cigarette smoking and tobacco use is of utmost importance and may be the most difficult lifestyle change. Behavior modification techniques and support groups may be of assistance with lifestyle changes.

Be sure the patient understands all medications, including the dosage, route, action, adverse effects, and need for routine laboratory monitoring for anticoagulants.

adherence to the rehabilitation program.
Ensure that the patient understands that the condition is chronic and not curable. Stress the importance of adhering to a balanced exercise program, using measures to prevent trauma and reduce stress. Include the patient’s family in the plans.

Diseases and Disorders, © 2011 Farlex and Partners
References in periodicals archive ?
Health-related quality of life after revascularization for peripheral arterial occlusive disease: long-term follow-up.
Gingko biloba special extract Egb 761 in the treatment of peripheral arterial occlusive disease: a review.
The most common presentations of Takayasu's arteritis include symptoms resulting from arterial occlusive disease of the aorta, aortic arch, and large vessels.
In the case of arterial circulatory disorders such as "smoker's leg" (peripheral arterial occlusive disease; PAOD), advanced calcification of the inner walls of the blood vessels is considered causative, and the corresponding therapy is applied.
This edition has been revised and organizes chapters into sections: general principles, arterial occlusive disease, arterial aneurysm disease, venous disease, complications, and miscellaneous topics.
Although numerous diseases can cause intermittent claudication, the vast majority of patients with claudication have atherosclerotic peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAD).
The ankle brachial index (ABI), a non-invasive laboratory diagnosis of PAD, provides a higher estimate of disease prevalence, since it has a high sensitivity for detecting angiographically defined peripheral arterial occlusive disease.12-14 A low ankle brachial index (ABI) is highly predictive not only of the presence of peripheral arterial occlusive disease but also of subsequent cardiovascular mor-tality.
21 November 2011 - The European Medicine Agency (EMA) said that its Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) had recommended the suspension of the marketing authorisations across the EU of all medicines containing buflomedil after establishing that the risks of these drugs in the treatment of peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD) outweigh the benefits.
Pro-inflammatory genetic profiles in subjects with peripheral arterial occlusive disease and critical limb ischemia, f Intern Med 2007;262:124-130
Peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD) in HIV-infected patients