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August 2010 | 1 Comments | Print

Peripheral artery disease: Are you able to walk a city block?

If you experience pain in your legs after walking only a city block, you may have Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) or vascular disease. PAD is caused by atherosclerotic plaque that builds up in the arteries in the extremities of your body, such as the legs and arms.

It can also be found in the arteries of your neck or abdomen. Frequently, it is found in more than one artery. PAD affects nearly 10 million adult Americans according to the American Heart Association.

What are the symptoms?

As the internal lining of the artery thickens from the atherosclerotic plaque, the blood vessel becomes increasingly constricted and blood flow diminishes. Therefore, the symptoms you may experience depend on what artery is affected and how severely the blood flow is reduced. Some of the symptoms you may experience in the affected areas are:

  • Dull, cramping pain in hips, thighs or calf muscle
  • Infection/sores that do not heal
  • Ulceration or gangrene

PAD often has no symptoms. However, having PAD is associated with an increased risk of future heart and circulatory problems. It is therefore necessary for you to understand your personal risk by speaking to your doctor. This is especially true if other risk factors are present.

What are the risk factors?

Clinical studies have identified factors that increase your risk of PAD. Some of these factors cannot be changed, while others can be managed to greatly reduce your risk of the disease. The risk factors are as follows:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity (being overweight)
  • High blood pressure
  • A family history of the disease
  • Lack of exercise
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Age greater than 50
  • Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol)

Age and family history cannot be changed, but many other risk factors can be modified to help you lead a healthier life.

How is PAD diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you have PAD, or if you have symptoms of the disease, a variety of simple tests may be  performed to make the diagnosis. These tests include:

  • Ankle Brachial Index (ABI)
  • Doppler Ultrasound Test
  • CAT Scan or MRI

What are treatments for PAD?

The most important approach for treatment is modifying risk factors.  This includes:

  • Exercise.Exercise may improve arterial blood flow to the affected limb. Exercise is not recommended for people with severe pain at rest, venous ulcers or gangrene. Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
  • Stop smoking.Smoking causes the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.  It may also cause vasoconstriction (decrease in diameter of blood vessels), which will interfere further with blood flow to the limbs.  Stopping smoking will improve vascular health as well as reduce the risk of future heart problems.
  • Diet and weight loss. reducing excess weight and taking a diet low in salt and saturated fat, high in fiber, and rich in vegetables are a few ways to improve high cholesterol and other risk factors of PAD.
  • Medications. Medications prescribed to patients with PAD include antiplatelet medications (such as Aspirin, clopidogrel, and cilostazol), cholesterol lowering agents called “statins” (such as simvastatin, atorvastatin, etc.), and blood pressure lowering agents.  Medication can also be helpful to stop smoking.

If symptoms persist after the above treatment, and if the symptoms are otherwise limiting or disabling to you, many treatments can be used to improve blood flow through the peripheral arteries. The latest interventions for treating PAD can bring immediate relief.

Minimally invasive procedures require no more than an overnight hospital stay, and patients enjoy an early return to most normal activities. In some cases, vascular surgery may be the preferred option. Consultation with a vascular specialist can determine which approach may be right for you.

If you have two or more of the risk factors above or symptoms of vascular disease, consider a vascular screening. Schedule a vascular screenings for $99 today by calling 513-585-2668.

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