Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) Q & A
What is peripheral artery disease?
Peripheral artery disease is a serious medical condition affecting over 8 million Americans. It occurs when blood flow is reduced due to a buildup of cholesterol that hardens into plaque, and narrows the arteries leading to your limbs. It can affect your arms or legs, but more commonly occurs in arteries supplying blood to your legs and feet.
Left untreated, PAD can lead to amputation.
What causes peripheral artery disease?
The buildup of excess cholesterol in the body hardens into plaque in the arteries; narrowing or in some cases completely blocking the peripheral arteries supplying blood to the legs and feet. When the tissues in your legs and feet do not receive enough blood, it can cause serious problems, including pain, skin ulcers that won’t heal, gangrene, tissue loss, loss of mobility, and even amputation.
What are the symptoms of peripheral artery disease?
You may not have symptoms until your artery has narrowed by 60% or more. When symptoms start, you may experience:
- Leg cramps or pain during exertion that improve at rest
- Leg pain at rest
- Cool-feeling skin in affected leg or foot
- Skin redness or color changes
- Wounds that don’t heal
- Hair loss on your feet and legs
- Shrinking calf muscles
- Thickened toenails
Leg pain and/or cramping that happens when you are in motion that improves or stops when you are at rest is called Intermittent claudication; the most common symptom of peripheral artery disease. Reduced blood flow causes pain and cramping in your hip and leg muscles when you’re active, even if you’re just walking.
You may also experience numbness, weakness, or a feeling of heaviness in your leg muscles. The symptoms usually go away with rest, then return when you resume the activity. As peripheral artery disease worsens, you’ll have pain even at rest. When this happens, the pain can be worse when your legs are elevated, or when you lie down.
Over half of those who have PAD have no symptoms at all. So, it is important to talk to your doctor, and to be tested if you have symptoms or risk factors.
What are the risk factors for PAD?
- Aged 65 or older
- Aged 50 or older with other risk factors
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Family history of PAD
How is peripheral artery disease treated?
Each patient’s treatment is customized but may include recommendations for lifestyle changes (stop smoking, change diet, exercise, lose weight), management of underlying health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and medications to improve circulation, reduce cholesterol, manage blood pressure, and lower your risk of blood clots.
Specialized procedures and treatments provided by Vascular Health Institute may include:
- Arteriogram: to evaluate the blockage
- Angioplasty: a small balloon is inserted to widen the narrowed artery
- Atherectomy: to remove the plaque from the artery
- Stenting: holds the artery open
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent cardiovascular complications. Call the Vascular Health Institute, or use the convenient online scheduling tool if you suspect that you might have PAD.