Buerger’s Disease

What is Buerger’s Disease?

Buerger’s disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) is a rare condition that is marked by the inflammation of small and mid-size arteries in the limbs. Approximately 95% of those afflicted with Buerger’s disease are men. It is a smoker’s and tobacco user’s disease that most often strikes those under 45 years of age. It is also thought to be an auto-immune disorder that causes the body to attack healthy cells.

Some individuals are genetically disposed to the condition, but the role of tobacco use is not fully known. As blood flow to the legs, feet, arms and hands is gradually restricted, the tissue becomes damaged. The swelling results in blood vessel blockages. Buerger’s disease can lead to painful sores, gangrene and amputation if not properly treated.

What are the Symptoms of Buerger’s Disease?

Discomfort generally starts in the toes and/or fingers and progresses to the limbs. It usually impacts the legs more than the arms, but not always.

Symptoms include

  • Intermittent limb, arm and hand pain that may increase with use
  • Burning or tingling
  • Bluish or pale toes and fingers when raised above heart-level or exposed to cold temps
  • Redness may appear in toes and fingers when lowered
  • Muscle cramps in feet, legs, forearms and/or hands
  • Weak or undetectable pulse in one or more wrists or feet
  • Painful open lesions
  • Chronic gum infections
  • Swollen veins just beneath the skin

Buerger’s Disease Causes

The cause of Buerger’s disease (also called thromboangiitis obliterans) is not known, however, there are several risk factors that contribute to this condition.

Tobacco usage poses a big risk for contracting Buerger’s disease and virtually everyone who is diagnosed with this ailment uses tobacco. The highest tobacco risk comes from those who make their own hand-rolled cigarettes with raw tobacco. Tobacco risks can also come from cigarettes, cigars, snuff, and chewing tobacco. Experts believe that tobacco use irritates the lining of the blood vessels, causing them to swell.

The effect of tobacco on the body’s autoimmune system may also be to blame. Some experts believe tobacco triggers an autoimmune response that causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue.

Some experts believe that some people have a genetic predisposition for Buerger’s disease, so a family history can be a factor in contracting this condition.

Chronic gum disease is also a contributing factor of Buerger’s disease.

How is an Buerger’s Disease Treated?

Since Buerger’s disease is linked to tobacco use, treatment begins with the cessation of smoking and any other tobacco products. Additional treatments depend on the severity and progression of the disease.

Treatment includes

  • Medication to improve blood flow, enlarge blood vessels and/or disperse blood clots
  • Stopping medications that cause blood vessel constriction
  • Compression garments
  • Spinal cord therapy
  • Surgery to stop blood vessels from contracting
  • Protection from cold
  • Injury prevention measures
  • Amputation to stop gangrene or uncontrollable infection

Buerger’s Disease Prevention

There is no specific medication for the prevention of Buerger’s disease, however, lifestyle modifications can reduce your chances of contracting this condition. Tobacco cessation for all types of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, snuff, and chewing tobacco will help to slow progression of the disease and may prevent the development of gangrene and the need for amputation in the future.

Use of smoking cessation therapy such as the patch could also keep the disease active. It is recommended that oral medication be taken for those who have Buerger’s disease and want to stop using tobacco.

Cardiovascular exercise is also encouraged for those that have Buerger’s disease to help slow the progression of this illness.

Other measures you can take to keep the disease from progressing include preventing trauma to the extremities and seeking treatment for injuries to the hands and feet when they occur. Avoiding cold environments and drugs that lead to vasoconstriction will also help to prevent Buerger’s disease from progressing.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
March 30, 2018
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