Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) affects one in 20 Americans over 50 years old. Undiagnosed, PAD may increase the risk for heart attack, stroke or limb loss.
PAD affects arteries outside the heart - commonly in the legs. However, it can affect other arteries as well. PAD develops when the peripheral arteries become clogged with fatty deposits (plaque), causing them to narrow and reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles. Plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) occurs over many years.
PAD is under-diagnosed and under-treated. Because symptoms may be mild or absent, the disease is often diagnosed after it's progressed and there are symptoms.
A simple, non-invasive and painless test called an ankle-brachial index (ABI) compares blood pressure readings in a person's ankles with blood pressure readings in the arms. If PAD is present, imaging (ultrasound or angiography) can pinpoint the specific artery that is blocked. Patients, especially those over age 50, should ask their physician to check for PAD.
Treatment may involve lifestyle changes to reduce risk, treating the limb(s) to reduce disease progression, treatment to save the limb(s) and therapies to prevent the associated risk of heart attack or stroke. Medications may be prescribed to prevent blood clots and reduce discomfort when walking. Some patients need a combination of therapies. In some cases, minimally invasive procedures or surgery may be necessary.
PAD Signs and Symptoms
- Do you walk less because of "muscle aches" in your legs?
- Do you have a sore, wounds or ulcers on your legs or feet that heal slowly or not at all?
- Do you have pain, weakness, numbness or cramping in your leg muscles?
- Do your feet or legs have a blue or pale color or are cool when compared to your other limbs?
- Does the hair on your legs and nails on your feet grow slowly?
Risk Factor Management for PAD
Risk factors for PAD such as aging, personal or family history for PAD, cardiovascular disease or stroke cannot be completely changed or controlled. However, there are risk factors that can be modified, including:
- Cigarette smoking – quitting is essential
- Obesity – Body mass index (BMI) should be less than 25
- Diabetes – controlling blood sugars and diabetes is essential
- Physical inactivity – regular exercise will improve PAD and overall health
- High cholesterol – controlling cholesterol will help to slow disease progression
- High blood pressure – monitoring and controlling blood pressure with medication is needed
Modifying all risk factors you have is critical to obtain the best results in slowing down the progression of PAD.