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Buerger’s Disease
Buerger's disease, or thromboangiitis obliterans, causes blockages in the blood vessels of your feet and hands.

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Buerger’s disease is also called thromboangiitis obliterans. It’s a disease that causes blockages in the blood vessels of your feet and hands. Your blood vessels become inflamed, which reduces blood flow. Blood clots that further clog blood vessels also develop. The disease causes pain and can lead to tissue damage. In severe cases, it can cause tissue death or necrosis.

The disease is found worldwide and can affect people of any race and age group. However, it mainly affects Asian and Middle Eastern men between the ages of 40 and 45 who heavily use or have heavily used tobacco products, including chewing tobacco.

Causes of Buerger’s Disease

The cause of Buerger’s disease isn’t always known. Some sufferers of this condition may be genetically predisposed to developing it.

Buerger’s disease begins by causing your arteries to swell and blood clots to form in your blood vessels. This restricts normal blood flow and prevents blood from fully circulating through your tissues. This results in tissue death because the tissues are starved of nutrients and oxygen.

The risk for developing Buerger’s disease increases when you smoke heavily. Scientists don’t know why tobacco smoke increases this risk, but the correlation between the two is well documented. According to the Mayo Clinic, almost everyone with Buerger’s disease uses tobacco.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Buerger’s Disease

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

  • pain in your hands and feet or your legs and arms, which may come and go
  • open sores on your toes or fingers
  • inflamed veins
  • pale toes or fingers when in cold temperatures

Tests and Diagnosis

There’s no test to determine if you have Buerger’s disease. However, there are tests your doctor can perform to rule out other conditions. A simple blood test can help your physician pinpoint whether your symptoms are from lupus, diabetes, or blood clotting disorders, which can display the same symptoms as Buerger’s disease.

In some cases, an angiogram, which checks the health of your arteries, may be necessary. In this test, your doctor injects a dye into your artery and then performs an X-ray of the area to view blockages in your arteries.

Another test your doctor may perform is called an Allen test. This is a noninvasive test that requires you to make a tight fist while your doctor presses on the artery of your hand. When you open your fist and your doctor releases the pressure from the artery, your hand should quickly turn from pale to its original color. If the color changes slowly, this might be a sign of Buerger’s disease.

Treatment Options for Buerger’s Disease

There isn’t a cure for Buerger’s disease. However, the symptoms of this condition can be treated and controlled by increasing your circulation, quitting use of tobacco products, avoiding cold weather, and, in some cases, having the affected nerves cut. The nerves are cut to eliminate pain. This is done through a surgical procedure called a sympathectomy.

You can increase your circulation by drinking plenty of fluids and staying active.

Preventing Buerger’s Disease

Prevent the worsening of your symptoms by quitting smoking and staying away from secondhand smoke. If you’re diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease, avoid using tobacco products to decrease your risk of developing Buerger’s disease.

Long-Term Outlook

If you stop using tobacco products, the symptoms associated with Buerger’s disease may simply disappear without any need for treatment. If your condition is severe, complications like gangrene or circulation problems in other parts of your body may be unavoidable. Severe gangrene might require limb amputation.

Written by: April Khan and Marijane Leonard
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: Andrew Gonzalez, MD
Published: Jul 25, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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