Buerger's Disease

Beurger’s disease, also called throboangitis obliterans, happens when your small blood vessels become swollen, especially the vessels in your hands and feet. You might experience pain in your fingers, hands, legs, or feet; clammy and cold skin; and fingers and toes that turn blue when cold. The disease starts in your hands and feet and as it progresses, it affects larger areas of your arms and legs. In cases where gangrene has developed, amputation may be required.

About Buerger’s Disease

A rare condition, Buerger’s disease causes your arteries to swell and blood clots to form, which makes it difficult for blood to flow normally throughout your body. When your tissues don’t get enough nutrients and oxygen, they die, which causes pain and weakness.

Most people who are diagnosed with Buerger’s disease use tobacco in some form – cigarettes, cigars, or even chewing tobacco. If you use hand-rolled cigarettes, you may be at greatest risk. Experts suspect that there may also be a genetic and/or immune system component.

Buerger’s disease can affect people of any age or race, though it mostly happens to Asian and Middle Eastern men who are between the ages of 40 and 45 and who have been heavy tobacco users. It is rare among African Americans. Other risk factors are chronic gum disease, clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), and Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Diagnosis and Treatment

No test can confirm that you have Buerger’s disease. We usually diagnose this condition by ruling out more common conditions, such as lupus. We use these tests to diagnose Buerger’s disease:

  • Blood tests rule out conditions such as scleroderma, lupus, blood-clotting disorders, and diabetes.
  • The Allen Test checks the blood flow through your arteries to your hands.
  • Ankle-brachial index (ABI) assesses the blood flow through arteries to your legs.
  • Angiograms, scans using computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, can show us the condition of your arteries. We might also do an angiogram using contract dye for greater visibility.
  • Ultrasounds use sound waves that can show us any blockages in your blood vessels.

We don’t have a treatment that can cure Buerger’s disease, but the first—and most important—step is to stop using any tobacco products. Other treatment approaches include:

  • Medication can expand blood vessels, improve blood flow, or dissolve blood clots.
  • Drinking fluids and staying active can increase your blood circulation.
  • Compressing your arms and legs intermittently can increase blood flow to them.
  • Stimulating your spinal cord can sometimes increase blood flow to your extremities.
  • Surgery can cut nerves to the affected areas (sympathectomy), which can control pain and increase blood circulation.