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Thromboangiitis obliterans

Alternative names

Buerger's disease


Thromboangiitis obliterans is a disease that causes obstruction of the blood vessels of the hands and feet.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Thromboangiitis obliterans (Buerger's disease) is caused by vasculitis, which is an inflammation (irritation with presence of extra immune cells) of blood vessels.

The blood vessels of the hands and feet are especially affected, becoming constricted or totally blocked. This reduces blood flow to the tissues of hands and feet, resulting in pain and eventually damage.

Thromboangiitis obliterans affects approximately 6 out of every 10,000 people. It almost always affects men aged 20 to 40 years old who have a history of smoking or chewing tobacco.

The condition may also be associated with a history of Raynaud's disease . This disorder is very uncommon in children, but may occur in those with autoimmune diseases .


  • Pain in the hands and feet
    • Acute , severe
    • Burning, numbness , tingling
    • Often occuring at rest
  • Pain in the legs , ankles, or feet when walking (intermittent claudication )
    • Often located in the arch of the foot
  • Skin changes or ulcers on hands or feet
  • Hands or feet may be pale , red, or bluish
  • Hands or feet may feel cold

Note: Symptoms may worsen with exposure to cold or with emotional stress . Usually, two or more limbs are affected.

Signs and tests

The hands or feet may show enlarged, red, tender blood vessels. Pulse may be decreased or absent in the affected extremity.

Blockage of blood vessels in the extremity may show on:
  • An angiography/arteriography of the extremity
  • A Doppler ultrasound of the extremity

Final confirmation of the diagnosis may require biopsy of the blood vessel.


There is no cure for thromboangiitis obliterans. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms.

The affected person must stop smoking if the affected extremity is to be saved. Cold temperatures and other conditions that reduce circulation to the extremities should be avoided. Attempts to increase circulation may include warmth and gentle exercise.

Surgical sympathectomy (cutting the nerves to the area) may help control pain. Aspirin and vasodilators may also used. Amputation of the extremity may be necessary if infection or extensive tissue death occurs.

Expectations (prognosis)

Symptoms of thromboangiitis obliterans may disappear if the person stops tobacco use. For some, amputation is unavoidable.


  • Gangrene (tissue death)
  • Loss of circulation beyond the affected extremity
  • Amputation

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if symptoms indicate thromboangiitis obliterans is present, if symptoms worsen despite treatment, or if new symptoms develop.


Men with a history of Raynaud's disease or thromboangiitis obliterans should avoid all tobacco use.

Update Date: 5/10/2002

Birgit Kovacs, M.D., Division of Rheumatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT