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Upper Extremity Vascular Disease

Upper extremity vascular disease is relatively uncommon compared to lower extremity vascular disease, but presents a unique diagnostic challenge for physicians.

Causes of Upper Extremity Vascular Disease

The most common causes of Upper extremity Vascular Disease are:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Embolic disease

There are other systemic diseases and anatomic abnormalities that can cause upper extremity vascular disease including vasculitis, arteritis, Takayasu’s Aortitis and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Symptoms of upper extremity vascular disease

Some of the typical symptoms of upper extremity vascular disease include:

  • Discomfort or pain in your arms
  • Tightness, heaviness, cramping, or weakness in one or both of your arms

Risk Factors

Upper extremity vascular disease may be a symptom of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), which is caused by atherosclerosis.

Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:

  • Smoking, or a history of smoking
  • High cholesterol levels in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Family history of heart or vascular disease

What to Expect at Your Medical Exam

Your vascular surgeon will try to determine if you are suffering from upper extremity vascular disease as well as the best method of treatment.

  1. Your vascular surgeon will ask you questions about your:
    1. general health
    2. medical history
    3. symptoms
  2. Your vascular surgeon will conduct a physical examination. You will be asked about family and medical history.  Your physician will ask you to describe your symptoms; how often they occur, how often and their location.
  3. Your vascular surgeon will conduct pulse tests; tests to measure strength of the circulation in your arm arteries. This is done by feeling the pulses at various locations in your arms.
  4. By using a stethoscope to listen to the blood flowing through your arm arteries, your vascular surgeon can determine the strength of the flow. Because upper extremity vascular disease can affect any artery in the body, your vascular surgeon will usually check arteries in other locations in your body besides your arms. 

Diagnostic Testing

After your exam, if your vascular surgeon suspects upper extremity vascular disease, diagnostic tests will be performed including:

  • Digital subtraction angiography
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Computerized tomographic angiography (CTA)
  • Angiography

Treatment for upper extremity vascular disease

Based on the results of your physical exam as well as your diagnostic testing, your vascular surgeon will treat your upper extremity vascular disease.  However, the goal is to also treat the underlying causes of your condition.

Treatments for this condition include lifestyle modifications such as:

  • Smoking cessation
  • Exercise and weight loss,
  • Medication
  • If necessary, endovascular intervention or surgery including:
  • Thoracic outlet surgery
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