Buerger's disease, also known as thromboangitis obliterans, was first reported in 1908 by a person named Buerger. It is known to affect around 20 out of 100,000 people in United States alone according to the statistic provided by CDC. Although it can affect people of any age group and race, it is seen more prominently in Asians and Middle Eastern men who have or currently are using tobacco products, in the age group of 20 to 50 years old.
What Is Buerger's Disease?
Buerger's disease is characterized by inflammation of blood vessels (small and medium sized) in the hands and feet. The arteries are the blood vessels which are usually affected, however, it can affect the veins as well. Segments or sections of the blood vessels are inflamed and is called as vasculitis. This leads to narrowing of the blood vessels, clot formation which can cause blockage of the vessel. Due to the blockage, the blood flow is impaired which leads to pain in hands and feet. This can lead to damage and death of tissue in the limbs.
What Are the Symptoms of Buerger's Disease?
The symptoms of Buerger's disease are given below:
- Intermittent pain occurring in the arms, hands, legs and feet. The pain occurs when limbs are being used for some activity and relieves when activity are stopped. It is also known as claudication.
- Blood clot in a vein just below the skin surface can cause inflammation along the vein as well.
- A condition called as Raynaud's phenomenon where the fingers and toes turn pale on exposure to cold weather.
- Open and painful sores on fingers and toes.
The doctor should be consulted when you think you have any sign or symptoms of Buerger's disease.
What Are the Causes of Buerger's Disease?
The cause of Buerger's disease is not always known, and some people might be affected by Buerger's disease due to genetic predisposition. In this condition, the arteries swell and blood clots formed, restricting the normal blood flow. Since the tissues do not receive oxygen and nutrients, it leads to tissue death.
People who smoke heavily are more at risk at developing Buerger's disease and it has been found that all people suffering from this condition are tobacco users.
Buerger's disease is seen in people from Southeast Asia, Middle-East, India or Oriental race. People in Bangladesh are known to smoke home-made cigarettes made from raw tobacco, which makes them more susceptible. It is seen more often in men, in the age group of 19 – 55 years. Women who smoke also have higher risk of being diagnosed with Buerger's disease. As the number of smokers has gone down, the number of people affected by Buerger's disease also has decreased.
What Are the Treatments for Buerger's Disease?
The first step after being diagnosed with Buerger's disease is to quit smoking. Continued smoking can make the symptoms persist and worsen at the same time allowing the disease to progress. The disease will become inactive when the patient stops smoking. It is best to avoid passive smoking as well.
Infections caused on the hands and legs during Buerger's disease should be treated immediately by prescribing antibiotics. There can be skin ulcers or skin infections for which NSAIDs or medicines containing codeine are used.
Completely replacing the arteries is not very feasible; however, new techniques where arteries of the fingers and toes are unblocked are gaining importance. If the patient continues to smoke, it can lead to further damage which can be resolved only by surgical amputation. The degree of damage will determine if the amputation is restricted to digits or entire limbs. Another option is a procedure called sympathectomy where nerves are surgically cut off to reduce pain.
Other Self-Help Measures
Given below are some methods which can be done by yourself to reduce the pain and further aggravation of the condition:
- The symptoms worsen in cold temperature and for this reason, avoid exposure to cold conditions or wrap up whenever possible to keep warm.
- Avoid walking barefoot which may cause injuries. Good well-fitting footwear should be used.
- To ensure that circulation in the hands and legs is maintained, gentle exercise should be performed.
- Gentle massage and application of heat helps in improving blood circulation.
- Avoid sitting or standing in the same position for extended time.
- Do not wear tight fitting clothes or clothes which restrict body movements.
In the link below you will find tips on how to deal with Buerger's disease and how it is connected to smoking from a person who used to smoke and got affected by the disease: