Severe inflammation of the small arteries that is triggered by smoking
- Most common between the ages of 20 and 40
- Three times more common in males
- Sometimes runs in families; more common in Asians and Eastern Europeans
- Smoking is a risk factor; exposure to cold aggravates symptoms
Buerger’s disease is a rare condition that most frequently affects men who smoke. The condition tends to run in families and is more common in people of Asian or Eastern European descent. The cause is not fully understood, but it is thought that, in people genetically susceptible to the disease, smoking triggers an autoimmune response, in which the immune system produces antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues. The arteries in the legs and sometimes those in the arms become inflamed, reducing blood supply to the tissues.
What are the symptoms?
The initial symptoms of Buerger’s disease are often intermittent and include:
Pale hands or feet, particularly after exposure to the cold.
Pain in the hands or feet, which may be severe at night and after exercise.
Numbness, tingling, or a sensation of burning in the fingers or toes.
With time, these symptoms usually become more severe and skin ulcers or gangrene may develop on the tips of the toes or fingers.
What might be done?
If you have the symptoms listed here, your doctor will take your pulse to check if it is weak or absent. If this is so, he or she may suspect Buerger’s disease and arrange for angiography (see Contrast X-rays) and Doppler ultrasound scanning to assess blood flow in the small arteries in the hands or feet.
If you are diagnosed with Buerger’s disease, the only action you can take to improve the outlook is to stop smoking. In people who continue to smoke, the disease is likely to progress so that amputation of the affected limb may eventually become necessary.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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