The peripheral blood vessels carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body and back to the heart, providing oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. If the blood vessels are diseased, oxygen supply to the tissues is reduced, leading to possible tissue damage and even tissue death. Many peripheral vascular disorders are more common in people who smoke and have a high-fat diet.
All of the blood vessels that carry blood around the body, apart from those in the heart and the brain, are known collectively as the peripheral vascular system. The peripheral vascular system consists of arteries, which carry blood away from the heart, and veins, which carry blood towards the heart.
This section begins by discussing aortic aneurysm, which is a potentially life-threatening disorder of the largest artery in the body. The second article examines thrombosis and embolism, in which a peripheral artery or vein becomes blocked. The most common cause of these disorders is a build-up of fatty deposits on the artery walls, which is a factor that also contributes to the development of diabetic vascular disease. All of these disorders reduce blood supply to the tissues, leading to conditions such as lower limb ischaemia and gangrene. Disorders that affect the small blood vessels in the hands and feet are then considered.
The section ends with a discussion of disorders of the peripheral veins. The veins may be blocked by a blood clot, as occurs in deep vein thrombosis and superficial thrombophlebitis, or may develop structural abnormalities, as occurs in varicose veins.
For more information on the structure and function of arteries and veins, see Blood Flow Through the Heart.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.