What’s thromboangitis obliterans?

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Thromboangiitis obliterans, or Buerger’s disease, is a rare vascular disorder caused by prolonged tobacco use that leads to blood vessel clotting in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. Symptoms include pain, ulcers, and eventually gangrene. Treatment involves quitting tobacco, exercise, and surgery in later stages.

Thromboangiitis obliterans, also known as Buerger’s disease, is a type of vascular disorder that causes blood vessels in the hands, arms, feet, and legs to clot. Decreased blood flow can lead to ischemic ulcers, pain, and eventually gangrene of the extremities. It is a rare disease that results from prolonged and heavy use of tobacco. When the disorder is detected early, stopping smoking is usually enough to halt the progression of thromboangiitis obliterans. Surgery is needed when the disease is in its later stages to repair damaged blood vessels and surrounding tissue.

Doctors and medical researchers don’t fully understand why thromboangiitis obliterans occurs, but they do know how it develops. Experts have found that using large amounts of tobacco over a long period of time can lead to swelling and inflammation of the blood vessels in the hands and feet. When the vessels in the extremities swell, blood flow becomes severely restricted. Clotting occurs over time, and blood flow problems tend to get worse if an individual continues to smoke or chew tobacco.

A person with thromboangiitis obliterans is likely to experience pain and weakness in their hands or feet. The extremities may swell, turn pale, and lose sensation over time. Discolored ulcers and open sores appear as blood flow becomes increasingly restricted. The tissue in the fingers and toes begins to die and rot when it stops getting enough oxygen, a condition known as gangrene.

A doctor who suspects thromboangiitis obliterans usually does several diagnostic tests to rule out other conditions that cause blood to clot, such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and congenital disorders. Your doctor may collect blood and urine samples and do an arteriography, a special type of X-ray procedure that reveals clots and damage to blood vessels. After confirming a diagnosis, your doctor can determine the best course of treatment.

Patients diagnosed with thromboangitis obliterans usually do not need to take medications or undergo surgery. Instead, the condition tends to be relieved when patients abstain from tobacco, avoid exposure to cold, and exercise their hands and feet regularly. If blood circulation does not return, a patient may be prescribed medications to relax and open blood vessels. When the disease progresses enough to cause numbness and tissue death, a surgeon may try to alleviate the problems by manually opening the vessels and removing the clots. Amputation is only necessary when gangrene has irreparably destroyed an extremity.

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