Buerger’s disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) is a rare disease of the arteries and veins in the arms and legs. In Buerger’s disease, your blood vessels become inflamed, swell and can become blocked with blood clots (thrombi).
This eventually damages or destroys skin tissues and may lead to infection and gangrene. Buerger’s disease usually first shows in your hands and feet and may eventually affect larger areas of your arms and legs.
Virtually everyone diagnosed with Buerger’s disease smokes cigarettes or uses other forms of tobacco, such as chewing tobacco. Quitting all forms of tobacco is the only way to stop Buerger’s disease. For those who don’t quit, amputation of all or part of a limb is sometimes necessary.
Buerger’s disease symptoms include:
- Pain that may come and go in your legs and feet or in your arms and hands. This pain may occur when you use your hands or feet and eases when you stop that activity (claudication), or when you’re at rest
- Inflammation along a vein just below the skin’s surface (due to a blood clot in the vein)
- Fingers and toes that turn pale when exposed to cold (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
- Painful open sores on your fingers and toes
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you think you may have signs or symptoms of Buerger’s disease.
The exact cause of Buerger’s disease is unknown. While tobacco use clearly plays a role in the development of Buerger’s disease, it’s not clear how it does so.
Experts suspect that some people may have a genetic predisposition to the disease. It’s also possible that the disease is caused by an autoimmune response in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.