Buerger’s disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) is a rare autoimmune disease that affects the arteries and veins in the arms and legs. Virtually everyone diagnosed with Buerger’s disease uses tobacco.
In Buerger’s disease, your blood vessels become inflamed and swollen and, if the blood vessels become blocked, blood clots (thrombi) can form. Eventually, the skin tissues could be damaged or destroyed and infection and gangrene could set in.
Men, especially those between the ages of 20 and 40, are three times more likely to be affected by the disease than women.
Heavy cigarette smokers (people who smoke one and a half packs a day or more) are most likely to develop Buerger’s disease. However, it can also occur in people who use any form of tobacco, including cigars and chewing tobacco, and those who smoke hand-rolled cigarettes using raw tobacco are at the greatest risk of getting the disease. It is thought that chemicals in tobacco may irritate the lining of the blood vessels, causing them to swell.
Although second-hand smoke is not considered a major risk factor, if you have Buerger’s disease, stay away from people who smoke as second-hand smoke could worsen your condition.
- Pain that may come and go in your legs and feet or your arms and hands; this pain typically occurs when you use your hands or feet and eases when you are at rest (claudication)
- Inflammation along a vein just below the skin’s surface (owing to a blood clot in the vein)
- Fingers and toes that turn pale when exposed to cold (Reynaud’s phenomenon)
- Painful open sores on your fingers and toes
- A feeling of coldness, numbness, tingling or burning in your legs and feet or your arms and hands.
- Conventional medical treatments that may help relieve the symptoms but do not address the root of the problem
- Vascular surgery that can sometimes be helpful in treating limbs with poor perfusion (passage of blood) secondary to this disease
- Using a vascular growth factor and having stem cell injections
- Having a gentle massage and applying warmth to increase circulation
- Avoiding conditions, such as cold temperatures, that reduce circulation to the extremities
- Avoiding sitting or standing in one position for long periods.
Quitting all forms of tobacco is the only way to stop Buerger’s disease. For those who do not quit, amputation of all or part of a limb may become necessary.