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Buerger’s Disease (Thromboangiitis Obliterans)

Buerger's disease — also called thromboangiitis obliterans — is a rare vascular disease associated with smoking and tobacco use. It can cause pain and discoloration in your hands, feet, and legs and lead to serious complications if left untreated.

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What Is Buerger's Disease (Thromboangiitis Obliterans)?

Buerger's disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) is a rare vascular disease.

It causes inflammation and blockages in the small and medium-sized blood vessels in the arms and legs. These changes deprive tissue of the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Buerger's disease risk factors

Tobacco use greatly increases the risk of Buerger's disease. It is believed that the chemicals in tobacco irritate the lining of your blood vessels and cause them to swell.

Most people who have Buerger's disease are those who use any form of tobacco, including:

  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars
  • Chewing tobacco

Buerger's disease is most common among young and middle-aged men who are heavy smokers. Those who smoke more than a pack and a half a day are most at risk for Buerger's disease.

Buerger's disease complications

If left untreated, advanced Buerger's disease can lead to gangrene — or tissue death — of your fingers or toes.

Doctors will often remove dead tissue with either an amputation or wide debridement.

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Buerger's Disease Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Buerger’s disease

Buerger's disease symptoms can include:

  • Cramping in the calf with exercise.
  • Pain in your arms, hands, legs, fingers, or toes.
  • Pale, red, or blue hands and feet.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Numbness or tingling in your limbs.
  • Skin ulcers or wounds that don’t heal on your fingers and toes.

Diagnosing Buerger’s disease

The symptoms of Buerger’s disease can be like those of other conditions. To diagnose Buerger's disease, your doctor may perform some tests to rule out other health problems.

Buerger’s disease diagnostic tests may include:

  • A complete physical exam that checks your pulse.
  • Ultrasound — uses sound waves to create pictures of the blood flow through your arms and legs.
  • Angiogram — uses an x-ray and contrast material to show blockages in your blood vessels.
  • Computed tomography angiogram (CTA) — uses cross-sectional x-rays and a computer to create detailed 3D images.

Buerger's Disease Treatment

There is no cure for Buerger's disease.

The most effective way to keep the disease from getting worse is to stop smoking and using tobacco products.

You must also avoid exposure to cold temperatures and practice proper hand and foot care.

Other treatments — that may be less effective — can include:

  • Medicines to open (dilate) your blood vessels, or blood thinners to prevent blood clots.
  • Surgery to restore proper blood flow.
  • Amputation of gangrenous fingers or toes.