Peripheral Artery Disease: What is it?

Peripheral Artery Disease: What is it?

January-12-2020

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) affects 8 to 12 million Americans, 1 in every 5 people over 70 years old have the disease. People who have PAD have a 2-6x greater chance of death from heart attack or stroke. Peripheral Artery Disease and diabetes are the leading cause of foot or leg amputation in the United States.

What is Peripheral Arterial Disease? 

Peripheral Arterial Disease, also called Peripheral Artery Disease, is caused by a blockage or narrowing of arteries in the legs. This narrowing is caused when fatty deposits, plaque, buildup along the walls of the arteries. This buildup causes arteries to not only narrow, but harden and develop into something called atherosclerosis.  

This leads to a reduction of blood flow to the lower limbs, commonly referred to as poor circulation. PAD occurs most frequently in the arteries of the legs, but can also affect other arteries. This will include arteries that go to the aorta, brain, arms, kidneys, and stomach. When arteries inside the heart become hardened or narrowed, it is referred to as coronary artery disease or cardiovascular disease. 

Some of the causes and risk factors of PA:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of PAD include: 

  • Fatigue, tiredness
  • Pain in your legs, thighs, buttocks that occurs when walking, but goes away when you rest. 
  • Foot or toe pain that wakes you up at night
  • Skin wounds or ulcers on your feet and/or toes that heal more slowly than usual. You should be alarmed when a wound or ulcer of the foot/ankle area does not heal in 8-12 weeks. 

Many individuals with PAD do not experience typical leg symptoms like cramping, pain, or fatigue.

When is the best time to visit a doctor?

You should visit your podiatrist at the first sign of leg pain, especially if you are at risk for PAD.  Any leg or thigh pain you have, could be a warning sign of serious diseases such as PAD. The early detection of PAD offers the chance to treat the risk factors that slow the development of the disease and lower the chance of heart attacks and/or strokes.

Your podiatrist can diagnose and treat PAD. The test for PAD, called ABI (ankle-brachial index) is very simple. It compares the blood pressure in your ankles against the blood pressure in your arm.  An abnormal ABI usually means you will undergo further testing to determine the extent of the PAD.  

How to treat Peripheral Artery Disease?

PAD can be treated by changing your lifestyle, medication, or surgical procedures if necessary. Medical treatment options include programs to stop smoking, blood pressure control, lowering your cholesterol, manage blood sugar levels, medications to prevent clotting, healthy diet, and exercise programs to increase blood flow to the lower limbs. There are a variety of surgical treatments available depending on the location and severity of arterial blockages. Your podiatrist can refer you to the appropriate specialist for these procedures, often a vascular surgeon. 

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