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Occlusive Disease

Occlusive arterial disease, often called occlusive disease, happens when there is inadequate blood flow to the heart due to narrowing of the arteries from buildup or disease. This condition most commonly shows up in the legs, but it can occur in the arms, the brain or the heart itself.

  • Types

    • Peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD), when blockages occur in the limbs
    • Cerebrovascular occlusive disease, when blockages occur in the carotid arteries delivering blood to the brain 
    • Chronic coronary total occlusion (CTO), when blockages occur inside the heart
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms will vary depending on where the occlusions occur and how severe they are. If there is a sudden blockage, you will feel severe pain and numbness in the affected area. This is a medical emergency and you should seek immediate attention. A blockage in the brain can also cause a stroke.

    If you have PAOD, you may experience occasional numbness, pain and muscle cramps that go away while resting. If your PAOD is advanced, you will experience the pain even at rest and may develop sores that will not heal.

    If you have CTO, you may experience chest pain, shortness of breath or extreme fatigue.

  • Prevention

    You can improve your chances of avoiding occlusive disease by exercising, eating a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking and receiving proper care for any existing comorbidities that could increase your risk of heart disease.

  • Risk Factors

    People who are generally at higher risk for heart disease are also at a higher risk for occlusive disease. This includes:

    • Men
    • Older people in general
    • People with high cholesterol
    • People who have a family history of arterial blockages
    • People who are overweight or obese
    • Physically inactive people
    • Smokers
    • Those with diabetes
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will do a physical examination, including blood work, and then take your blood pressure on each limb. You may also need a pulse assessment and a sensor to measure oxygen amounts in your skin tissue. Imaging like angiography or doppler ultrasonography is usually required. Your doctor may also order a cardiac stress test. 

  • Treatment

    Treatment for your occlusive disease will vary depending on the severity of the condition. You likely will need to make lifestyle changes, such as exercising daily, eating a heart-healthy diet, losing weight and quitting smoking. Other treatment options may include:

    • Angioplasty, a procedure in which a closed or narrowed artery is reopened during a minimally invasive procedure
    • Medication
    • Stent placement, which is performed during angioplasty. A stent is a mesh tube that works like scaffolding to hold the closed or narrowed artery open.
    • Surgery to remove or bypass the blockage

    If left untreated, PAOD can result in limb amputation.

  • Follow-up Care

    You will need regular check-ups with your doctor to ensure you are making progress with your lifestyle changes and that the disease has not gotten worse.