Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a circulatory problem where the narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs. Many people experience a common symptom of leg pain, which results from not enough blood flow. Read on to learn the facts about peripheral artery disease, how common it is, and what patients need to know.
Facts about peripheral artery disease
According to the CDC, roughly 8.5 million people in the United States have PAD. Of that group, 12-20% of individuals older than age 60. The National Institute of Health says that PAD affects eight to 12 million people in the United States.
Smoking increases the risk of PAD by two-to-six times, and smoking also worsens the symptoms of PAD. In fact, one study found that “smokers whose lifetime exposure to cigarettes was 10 to 29 pack-years were six times more likely to develop PAD, and those with a lifetime exposure of 30 or more pack-years had 11 times the risk. A pack-year is the measure of tobacco exposure: one pack of cigarettes a day for 10 years, two packs a day for five years, and half a pack a day for 20 years each adds up to 10 pack-years.”
One in three people over the age of 50 with diabetes is likely to have PAD. Only about 3% of people under age 60 have PAD. African Americans are more than twice as likely as Caucasians to have PAD. Most patients experience leg pain; however, up to 40% of individuals with the disease have no leg pain.
Patients with heart disease have one in three chance of also having PAD. People with too much “bad” LDL cholesterol and too little “good” HDL cholesterol are also linked to the disease. Risk increases by 5% to 10% for every 10-point rise in LDL levels. PAD can be hereditary; family history accounts for roughly 20% of someone’s risk of the disease.
What to do if you think you have PAD
Patients that think they might have peripheral artery disease should consult a medical professional. Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check the color, temperature, and appearance of your legs. Your doctor will also look at pulses in your legs to make sure there is enough blood flow. Be sure to note all medical history during this appointment, and your doctor may send you for additional diagnostic exams.
Your doctor will likely perform an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test. This is a noninvasive test that compares the blood pressure readings in both your ankles and your arms. While this test is helpful in diagnosing PAD, it does not determine which arteries are blocked or narrowed. Further testing, such as an ultrasound, angiography, and blood tests, might be necessary depending on the doctor’s findings.
While PAD is most common the legs, it can also occur in the arms. If you have symptoms such as fingers that turn blue, pain or cramping during exercise, or cold or numb hands, speak with your doctor.
Lifestyle changes with PAD
Treatment of peripheral artery disease includes making lifestyle changes.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is a cause of PAD and makes the symptoms work. If you’re having trouble quitting, call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
- Exercise. Try to complete at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise per day (or at least most days of the week).
- Check your levels and adjust. High blood pressure and cholesterol factor into PAD prevention and treatment, so talk to your doctor about your current levels and steps to take to lower them.
- Eat healthily. PAD patients are encouraged to maintain a healthy weight and diet.
For more information on how Vascular Associates of WNY can help treat PAD, view our services page here.