Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) affects eight to 12 million people in the United States, according to the National Institute of Health. This circulatory problem occurs when the narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs. These arteries become narrowed or blocked when plaque, which is made up of excessive fat, cholesterol, and other substances, forms inside the artery walls. And once this happens, blood cannot reach vital organs and tissues to nourish them. PAD can occur quickly or slowly, depending on the individual case.
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The first symptom of PAD that many patients notice is leg pain or cramping that occurs with activity. Typically this pain occurs in the calf but may happen in other locations. Other symptoms include numbness or weakness in the leg, as well as a feeling of heaviness or fatigue in the muscles. The pain may also prevent patients from normal physical activity. Other symptoms to note include redness or skin color changes, sores that do not heal, cool skin on the feet, or a burning or aching pain in the feet and toes.
Doctors typically perform an ankle/brachial index (ABI), which measures the blood pressure in the lower legs compared to the blood pressure in the arms. This can determine the amount of blood flow to the legs and feet; a decreased amount can be an indicator of PAD.
Alternatively, pulse volume recordings can measure the blood volume changes that happen in the legs and can help locate the area of blockage. Additionally, a vascular ultrasound may be necessary to detect blockages as well.
Treating Peripheral Artery Disease
When PAD is more advanced, it may require surgical treatment such as bypass surgery or endovascular repair, including angioplasty, atherectomy, and stenting.
For patients with mild PAD, physicians may recommend medication and exercise therapy, as well as lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and changing diet. It’s important to detect PAD early, so those at risk are encouraged to manage their weight, stop all tobacco use, get regular exercise, and maintain a healthy diet.
The Importance of Treating PAD
Patients that leave PAD untreated may experience the following.
- Heart attack
- Artery disease
- Transient ischemic attack
Learn more about PAD here.