Arm Artery Disease

Arm artery disease is a relatively uncommon type of peripheral artery disease (PAD) that occurs when one or more of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and hands become partially or completely blocked. The blockage may strike suddenly or develop gradually over time. Most arm artery blockages are caused by a blood clot that traveled to the arm from the heart or an artery in the chest (thromboembolism). 

Other Possible Causes 

In addition to thromboembolism, arm artery disease can be caused by other health issues, such as: 

  • A buildup of cholesterol plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis) 
  • An autoimmune disease, such as Takayasu’s disease 
  • Buerger’s disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) 
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon 
  • Collagen vascular disease 
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome 
  • Hypothenar hammer syndrome 
  • Radiation therapy for breast cancer 
  • A complication of dialysis 

The primary risk factors for arm artery disease are smoking and advanced age. 

What Are the Symptoms of Arm Artery Disease? 

The most common symptoms of arm artery disease are pain, cramping, heaviness and weakness in the affected arm, particularly when it is being used.  

Other symptoms can include: 

  • Sensitivity to cold 
  • Cool, pale skin 
  • Bluish, slow-growing nails 
  • Weak pulse 
  • Muscle atrophy 
  • Sores that don’t heal (ulcers) 
  • Gangrene 

How Is Arm Artery Disease Diagnosed? 

Typically, a physician will begin by asking about the patient’s symptoms and medical history, then perform a physical examination and evaluate the patient’s blood pressure and pulse rate.  

The diagnostic process may also include one or more of the following tests: 

  • Allen’s test – Measures blood flow to the hand 
  • Duplex ultrasound – Shows the movement of blood through the arm arteries
  • Angiogram – Creates images of the blood vessels in the arm 
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) – Generates images of the arteries 

How Is Arm Artery Disease Treated? 

The optimal treatment approach can vary depending on the cause, location and severity of the blockage. Some options include: 

  • Cervical sympathetic blockade 
  • Cervical sympathectomy 
  • Surgical bypass 

If arm artery disease is caused by an underlying condition, such as atherosclerosis, treating that condition may improve the symptoms. Additionally, healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, can reduce the risk of recurrent blockages.  

Tampa General Hospital offers the latest diagnostic and treatment options for all forms of peripheral artery disease, including arm artery disease.