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Buerger’s Disease (BGD)

In Buerger’s disease (BGD), or thromboangiitis obliterans, small blood vessels in the hands and feet become inflamed and narrowed. When this happens, blood clots can completely block the blood vessels, leading to serious consequences, like gangrene.

The cause of Buerger’s disease is unknown, but it may be an autoimmune disorder. Something in tobacco may trigger the immune system to mistakenly attack your blood vessels. Most patients with this progressive form of vasculitis have a history of heavy tobacco use. 

Buerger’s disease: what you should know

  • Common symptoms of Buerger’s disease include the following:
    • Pain in the legs, ankles or feet when walking
    • Cold fingers or toes
    • Low or missing pulse in hands or feet
    • Pain in the hands and feet
      • Burning or tingling
      • Often occurring at rest
      • May be worse with cold exposure or with emotional stress
  • If you have ulcerations in your fingers and toes, they may need to be removed, or amputated. If you continue to smoke, your chance of needing to amputate an entire limb almost doubles.
  • There is no cure for BGD. Typically, it is not immediately fatal, but it does shorten your life span.

How can I get help for Buerger’s disease?

Diagnosis. The sooner the diagnosis is made, the better your outcome will be. If you have the symptoms above, see your primary care doctor at Rush.

Testing. There is no single test for Buerger’s disease. Other conditions with similar symptoms will be ruled out first.

Your doctor will order a set of tests, including one or more of the following:

  • Angiography to look for blocked or constricted blood vessels, sometimes shaped like a corkscrew
  • Ultrasound to check for blood clots
  • Blood tests to check for other causes of vasculitis and inflammation
  • Biopsy of the blood vessel to confirm diagnosis

Care for Buerger’s disease at Rush

Treatment. If you are diagnosed with BGD, you will be referred to the Division of Rheumatology. The goal of treatment is to control your symptoms and to prevent disease progression.

Your doctor may order one or more of the following treatments:

  • Medications to open the blood vessels
  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief
  • Surgery to cut nerves and control pain
  • Amputation to eliminate infection or widespread tissue death, or gangrene

You may also need to make one or more of these lifestyle changes:

  • Stopping all tobacco use, which is the only way to slow disease progression and possibly avoid amputation
  • Applying warmth to affected areas
  • Exercising to increase circulation
  • Avoiding cold temperatures

Why choose Rush for Buerger’s disease care

  • Experts in the Division of Rheumatology have experience identifying, diagnosing and treating all types of vasculitis, including Buerger’s disease.
  • Rush offers an on-site laboratory, infusion therapies and a variety of other services. This makes your care easy to coordinate and more convenient for you. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition