Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a disease caused by a gradual narrowing of the walls in arteries due to fatty deposits. As the vessels narrow, circulation and blood flow is decreased to your feet, legs and arms. The blood flow to your legs can become so limited that it can’t meet the increased demand of walking or stair climbing and pain during these activities can be moderate to severe. How do you know if you have peripheral artery disease?
You wake early one beautiful spring morning and decide to take a walk around the neighborhood. Thinking this could be the start of a healthy new habit you quickly dress and head out the door but before you have walked very far you are halted in your tracks by a severe muscle cramp. You stop a moment and it begins to relax but as you start walking again another shooting pain grabs your thigh or leg muscle and intensifies as you try walking it out. You could be experiencing signs of peripheral artery disease (PAD).
It is estimated by the American Heart Association, that between eight and twelve millions Americans are affected by PAD. Many people with peripheral arty disease have no signs or symptoms until they suffer a stroke or heart attack. The pain in your calves, legs, thighs or even arms, which lessens after you rest a few minutes, could be a warning sign that saves your life. If it happens frequently during activities such as walking or climbing stairs make an appointment with your doctor for a full evaluation.
Risk Factors for PAD
Risk factors for peripheral artery disease include:
• Physical Inactivity -especially if you spend a lot of time sitting.
• High cholesterol
• High Blood Pressure
Smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure puts you at an especially high risk of PAD even if your weight is within a healthy range. Unless symptoms are reported to your doctor, PAD may easily go undiagnosed. Making lifestyle changes could go a long way in managing your risk of peripheral artery disease. For those individuals being treated for high blood pressure and diabetes medication may be added to further lower your risks.
Signs of Peripheral Artery Disease
Leg pain when walking (intermittent claudication) is the most common sign of PAD. This may be mild and easily passed off as a simple muscle spasm or it can be so severe that it stops you in your tracks and you are unable to continue without resting until the pain has ended.
Other signs include:
• A tiredness or weakness in the thighs, hips or legs when walking
• An unusual coldness, numbness or tingling in one leg as compared to the other
• Loss of hair on the legs
• A change in the skin appearance on the legs which may be shiny, blotchy, or have unexplained sores that is slow to heal.
While some of these symptoms can be attributed to the signs of aging or a result of inactivity and the usual adaptations muscles experience with the beginning of a new activity, don’t take any chances. Report any symptoms of leg pain or numbness to your doctor.
Treatment Options for PAD
If caught early enough, you may be able to treat PAD with lifestyle changes that include stopping smoking, losing weight and beginning a regular routine of daily exercise. Your health care provider can fully evaluate your risks and guide you in the best course of action. If you have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol medications may be needed to prevent blood clots and lower your blood pressure. Regular screening can determine how long medications may be necessary while you work on the other lifestyle changes.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to widen an artery or remove a blood clot in an artery or bypass damaged arteries.
Stopping smoking and increasing physical activities are perhaps the two most important lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk for PAD. If you are already diagnosed with PAD or experiencing symptoms, do not make any changes in diet or physical activity before checking with your doctor.
Peripheral Artery Disease, Mayo Clinic Health
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), American Heart Association