Purpose of review: Thromboangiitis obliterans is a nonatherosclerotic segmental inflammatory disease that affects the small and medium-sized arteries and veins in the upper and lower extremities. This review will help to familiarize physicians with this vasculitis that is completely different from every other type of vasculitis encountered.
Recent findings: While tobacco is central to the initiation and continuance of Buerger's disease activity, two interesting pathophysiologic observations have been made. There is endothelial dysfunction in arteries not yet clinically or angiographically involved in thromboangiitis obliterans. There are elevated levels of anti-endothelial cell antibodies and measurement of these antibody titers may be useful in following disease activity in Buerger's disease patients. The only therapy clearly shown to prevent amputation is the complete abstinence of tobacco. There is exciting work under way on the use of selective cannabinoid receptor antagonists to help patients stop smoking. In addition, preliminary results on use of therapeutic angiogenesis in patients with Buerger's disease has demonstrated excellent collateral blood vessels formation and clinical improvement.
Summary: The difficulty in studying rare diseases such as thromboangiitis obliterans is that there are no significant research dollars available and even the most active centers only see a few patients per year. Therefore, there has been little progress in understanding the pathogenesis of the disease. There are new therapeutic modalities that help patients with this disease, however, and patients can be assured that if they are able to discontinue tobacco use completely, amputation will not occur if critical limb ischemia is not already present.