What is Buerger's Disease?

by cherylone

(pronounced as burgers)--Buerger's Disease is a vascular disease that first affects the outer extremities of the body and is believed to be related to the effects of tobacco usage.

Buerger’s Disease or thromboangiitis obliterans is inflammation and/or blockage of blood vessels in the hands and feet which usually leads to gangrene (death of the living tissue). It is a rare disease, especially in the United States; being more prevalent in the Middle East and Far East. Buerger’s Disease is generally found in men 40 and below, although some cases of women are now being seen as well. Although is it not guaranteed to cause Buerger’s Disease, smoking (cigars, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco) is almost always present in those who are diagnosed with the disease. It is believed (though not yet proven) that the chemicals inhaled with tobacco use irritates the linings of the blood vessels causing them to swell and bring on Buerger’s Disease. It is also believed that those who roll their own cigarettes are at even greater risk for the disease.

Even with all of the scientific knowledge available today, scientists are not yet certain what the exact triggers of this disease are.

Genetics may play a part in the disease, however, studies have shown that any use of tobacco products may also have a huge impact on the development of the disease.  Second hand smoke, although not linked directly to Buerger’s Disease, is thought to be a dangerous risk factor if someone has already been diagnosed with the disease.  Anyone diagnosed with Buerger’s Disease should avoid second hand smoke. 

Quit smoking and avoid second hand smoke

Smoking can be the cause.
Smoking can be the cause.

Buerger's Disease, if left untreated, can cause the loss of fingers and toes.

It can also move up to arms and legs.  Amputation may be (and usually is) necessary to stop the spread of the disease.  Continued use of tobacco products will most certainly cause further damage to veins and arteries.  One way to stop and/or prevent Buerger’s Disease is to stop using all tobacco products.  While the cessation of smoking can help prevent the disease, it is not a guarantee that you will not develop the disease later in life.  In fact, it is not guaranteed that if you do not smoke, but are genetically inclined to develop Buerger’s Disease, you will not develop the disease.

Even if you have Buerger's Disease in your family history, there is no guarantee that you will develop the diseases, especially since Buerger's Disease is so rare.  However, anyone who is genetically inclined to develop the disease should avoid smoking, tobacco use in general and second-hand smoke as a preventive measure.  

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Characterizations of the disease.

The disease is characterized by pain in toes, feet, legs, fingers, hands and/or arms. The pain will come and go without a pattern and usually eases when the use of the limb ceases (if you are walking, the legs and feet will hurt until you sit down).  There may be inflammation along a vein just below the surface of the skin (which could be a blood clot in the vein), and the fingers or toes may become very pale when exposed to the cold.  Outer extremities (toes, fingers, feet, and hands) may begin to feel cold to the touch.  Open sores may develop that will refuse to heal.  Fingers and toes may become very weak, with the weakness moving further into the limb as the disease progresses.  Chronic infection of the gums can also be caused by Buerger’s Disease.  If you experience any of these symptoms you should see your doctor as soon as possible.  

Gangrene sets in.

Because the outer extremities do not get the needed oxygen and nutrients that are delivered by the blood, they eventually die.  This is extremely painful, and will spread throughout the limb fairly quickly because the body is trying to fight the infection without nutrients or oxygen.  Eventually the infection becomes gangrenous and spreads further and further through the limb and eventually the body.  Treatment of the disease involves quitting all tobacco products, antibiotics to treat present infections, and amputation of badly gangrenous limbs.  Although gangrene is not a guarantee that you have Buerger's Disease, it is an extremely dangerous infection that should be treated immediately no matter what the cause.

Gangrene is the dying of living flesh.  The area swells with green pus and has an extremely bad odor.  Gangrene, once set in, is difficult and in many cases impossible to treat.  Amputation is usually necessary.

Buerger's Disease may lead to this
Moyamoya brain
Moyamoya brain

Fingers, toes, hands, and feet are the first to be affected by Buerger's Disease, and the brain may follow

PalmographReflexologyBrain Matters

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Moyamoya Syndrome

Anyone with Buerger’s Disease may also be at risk for Moyamoya Syndrome which is the swelling and/or blockage of blood vessels in the brain.  This could, and usually does, lead to strokes, aneurysms, and permanent damage to the brain.  Moyamoya, which appears as a puff of smoke on x-rays, is treatable if found early enough.  Moyamoya can be caused by many factors of which Buerger's Disease is one.

The following links can give you more information about Buerger's Disease and Moyamoya Syndrome

As always, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, seek medical assistance from a qualified doctor, only they can correctly diagnose your situation.
Updated: 11/27/2012, cherylone
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cherylone on 04/14/2012

My ex-husband lost the tips of most of his fingers and a leg to this disease which is why I chose to write about it. I had never heard of it until that moment. Now he may have moyamoya as well, probably from Buerger's Disease. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Mladen on 04/14/2012

I had 2 patients with this disease. It is true that Buerger's disease can affect both arms and legs, but it is in 80% of cases that the lower limbs are affected.
Scientists haven't found the cure, but it is obvious that if patient lowers the number of cigarettes per day, it can help a lot. The ones that quit smoking, are the ones that get cured.
We all know that chemicals from cigarettes affect every single cell in human body. In this case the abnormalities probably happen in lymphocytes, which then cause inflammation process in large veins (femoral vein in most cases).

I love your presentation about this disease, and I think everyone should know about it. Many people still try to ignore the fact that cigarettes are actually killing them.

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