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Buerger’s Disease

What is Buerger’s disease?

Buerger’s disease  is one of many types of vasculitis. This is inflammation of small and medium size blood vessels. Buerger’s disease causes a tightening, or a blockage, of the blood vessels in your feet and hands. When blood doesn’t flow well to your hands and feet, especially during activity, you may have pain and tissue damage. In the worst cases, sores (ulcers) appear on your fingers and toes due to poor blood flow circulation to the skin and tissue. The ulcers can become infected and cause gangrene. In a small number of people, Buerger’s disease reduces blood flow to the heart, belly, or brain.

Who is at risk for Buerger’s disease?

People at the greatest risk for Buerger's disease are those who are heavy smokers. Men of Asian or Eastern European descent, who are between ages 20 and 40 seem to be especially at risk. It has also been identified cigar smokers, marijuana users, and those who use smokeless tobacco such as chewing tobacco and snuff. It is a rare disorder, especially in countries where the use of tobacco has declined.

What causes Buerger’s disease?

Doctors are not sure what causes Buerger’s disease. It is a rare type of vasculitis.

What are the symptoms for Buerger’s disease?

Symptoms of Buerger’s disease include:

  • Pain, tenderness or burning feeling in your lower legs or feet when walking
  • Pain or tenderness in your hands or forearms
  • Blood clots
  • Ulcers on your toes and fingers
  • Change in the color of the skin on the fingers and toes to pale, redness, and sometimes bluish in color

How is Buerger’s disease diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider will consider:

  • Your overall health and medical history
  • Your symptoms
  • Lifestyle choices, such as whether you smoke
  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests to assess tissue damage

How is Buerger’s disease treated?

Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old you are
  • Your overall health and medical history
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

There is no cure for Buerger’s Disease. Treatment may depend on how far your disease has progressed. It will focus on trying to improve blood flow to the affected area or to reduce pain. Options include:

  • Stopping all smoking and other forms of tobacco use, including electronic cigarettes.
  • Having surgery to bring blood to the affected tissues
  • Other types of surgery to cut the nerves to the tissue to reduce pain or treat damaged extremities

People who have smoked for more than 20 years are more likely to need surgery. Some medicines help to relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow to the tissue.

What are the complications of Buerger’s disease?

Possible complications from Buerger’s disease include:

  • Changes in the way you walk or move due to pain
  • Ulcers
  • Tissue damage or tissue death (gangrene)
  • Amputation

What can I do to prevent Buerger’s disease?

The goal is to prevent the disorder from getting worse by

  • Stopping smoking and avoiding all tobacco products.
  • Avoid long periods of time spent in cold temperatures.
  • Dressing warmly in cold temperatures.

How can I manage Buerger's disease?

Follow your health care provider’s advice for taking care of yourself. The best way to stop or slow Buerger’s disease is to stop using tobacco completely. Talk with your health care provider if you need help quitting tobacco.

When should I call my health care provider?

Talk to your health care provider if you have:

  • Pain in your lower legs, feet, hands, or forearms that continues to get worse
  • Sores on your hands or feet that do not heal
  • Signs of infection in the affected areas

Key points about Buerger's disease

  • Buerger’s disease causes the blood vessels to narrow and severely limits the blood flow to the area, usually in the hands and feet.
  • It is a rare disorder that can’t be prevented. It mostly affects men.
  • Quitting smoking and stopping use of any forms of tobacco or nicotine is important to reduce the risk of complications.  

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Buerger’s Disease - WellSpan Health

Author: Vann, Madeline, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Sohrabi, Farrokh, MD
Last Review Date: 2013-12-29T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2015-11-06T00:00:00
Published Date: 2015-11-06T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2013-01-08T00:00:00
© 2016 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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