Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a widespread condition, the most common manifestation being a gradual occlusion of the arteries of the legs due to atheroma, which results in symptoms of ischaemia such as intermittent claudication or rest pain, ulceration and gangrene. Treatment of the condition is palliative and reconstructive, and aims to salvage the limb, restore mobility and function, and relieve pain. It usually involves attempts to revascularize the affected limb, either by surgical procedures such as bypass grafting, or by percutaneous transluminal angioplasty or thrombolysis. In some cases, it may be necessary to amputate the limb or part of it. Despite the chronicity of PVD, little is known about the ways in which individuals with vascular disease cope with their condition and about the effect it has on their life. In this context the aims of this study were to explore the lived experience of peripheral vascular disease, in order to identify key themes and categories, using a phenomenological grounded theory approach. A sample of nine individuals was drawn from patients who had had vascular bypass surgery within the past 18 months. Data were collected using audiotaped one-to-one interviews and the researcher's field notes, and were validated with a group of experienced vascular nurses. Transcripts were analysed using open and axial coding techniques, and major and minor categories were identified and related to other data collected. It appeared that vascular patients experienced powerlessness in relation to the direct effects of their condition and in relation to its treatment modalities. The findings suggested that the 'acute' style of management of PVD often led to unrealistic expectations on the patient's part, which gave rise to the experience of powerlessness. The implications of these findings for the management of patients with PVD are discussed.