Peripheral artery disease, also known as PAD, is a narrowing of your peripheral arteries, or arteries outside of your heart. PAD mostly occurs in the arteries in your legs, but can also affect the arteries that deliver oxygenated blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys, and stomach.
This narrowing of the arteries occurs because of plaque buildup, which is also called atherosclerosis. This plaque buildup can, over time, accumulate and harden, leading to blockages and reduced blood flow to your legs and other extremities.
Plaque buildup is a complex problem and it often begins when we are young, taking many years to develop into blockages that can lead to symptoms. Knowing about PAD, can help you recognize the signs, reduce your risk for complications, and develop a strategy to treat it effectively. Here are five things that vascular surgeon Diego Hernandez, MD, of Bloomfield Vein and Vascular, wants you to know about PAD:
Risk factors for peripheral artery disease
About 18-20 million people in the US have PAD. Sometimes there are symptoms, such as leg pain, but often there are no symptoms, particularly if you are a diabetic. You can, however, lower your risk for this potentially dangerous condition if you know you’re at risk for developing PAD. Here are risk factors you need to know:
- Are over age 50
- Have diabetes
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol levels
- Have a history of vascular disease, heart attack, or stroke
- Are African American
Symptoms of peripheral artery disease
As mentioned above, often, there are no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Some people don’t even report their mild symptoms, thinking they are normal signs of getting older. But, if you experience one or more of these common PAD symptoms, you should speak to your doctor. Common symptoms include:
- Leg pain when walking
- Pain or cramping in your legs, arms, hip, thigh or calf muscles
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Coldness in your lower leg or foot
- A bluish hue on your legs
- Sores on your toes, feet, or legs that won’t heal
- Shiny skin on your legs
- Slower hair and toenail growth
- Erectile dysfunction in men
Complications of peripheral artery disease
PAD may lead to a number of complications, and it is important to recognize that a diagnosis of PAD places you at risk for development of stroke and coronary artery disease. In some cases, particularly if you continue to smoke and/or have diabetes, reduced or blocked blood flow can lead to critical limb ischemia. Critical limb ischemia develops when blood flow is so minimal that it can lead to constant pain, and might lead to sores or infections that won’t heal and, eventually, turn gangrenous. In advanced cases, amputation may be required.
How to prevent peripheral artery disease
The best ways to prevent PAD is to reduce your risks. You can reduce your risk by adopting the following healthy lifestyle changes:
- Quitting smoking
- Keeping your blood sugar under control if you have diabetes
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Eat a healthy diet low in saturated fat
Peripheral artery disease treatment options
Your treatment options will depend on your symptoms, risk factors, lifestyle, and medical history. The first step is to make healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk for developing PAD. Often medication coupled with healthy lifestyle changes may be necessary if you have high cholesterol or blood pressure levels, and some medications may lessen your symptoms when you are walking.
In some cases, the following invasive procedures may be warranted to improve flow to the affected extremity:
- Angioplasty with or without stenting
- Bypass surgery
If you think that you are at risk of developing peripheral artery disease or are experiencing symptoms that suggest a diagnosis of PAD, call Dr. Hernandez at Bloomfield Vein & Vascular located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. You can also request an appointment online through this website.