Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is an illness that happens when narrowed arteries reduce blood flow, most often to the lower limbs. It results from a buildup of plaque (fats and cholesterols). Not only does this disease reduce blood flow, it also makes it harder for your blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to the affected limbs.
Although common – over 6.5 million people have PAD – a PAD diagnosis for yourself or a loved one can be scary. However, understanding what it is, along with how to prevent and treat it, can help you cope with the diagnosis.
Who is at risk for PAD?
Like many illnesses, certain risk factors can lead to a PAD diagnosis. Dr. Mary Hanley, medical director of the Wound, Hyperbaric Medicine and Limb Preservation Program at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, notes that PAD diagnoses are increasing “due to diabetes, obesity and high fat diet” occurring in patients more and more. Knowing what to look for can help ensure you receive an early diagnosis and treatment. It’s important to see your doctor regularly, especially if you are at risk due to:
- Atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in arteries)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Smoking tobacco products
While PAD affects both men and women, there are genetic risks that are related to your race. Black people are most at-risk for this disease. Hispanics also have a slightly higher chance of being diagnosed than non-Hispanics.
Know the symptoms of PAD
It’s important to notice any changes in your body. There are several symptoms that may indicate that you have peripheral arterial disease. They include:
- Cool or cold feet
- Claudication pain (pain after walking short distances that improves after rest)
- Discolored feet
- Leg cramps at night
- Shiny, hairless skin on legs and feet
If you have any of these symptoms, or concerns that you might have PAD, make sure to talk with your doctor right away. The sooner you talk with your doctor, the sooner you can get the correct diagnosis, put your mind at ease and begin your treatment journey.
Treatments for PAD
After you’ve been diagnosed with PAD, your doctor will tell you about the best treatment choices for you. Based on your lifestyle and other risk factors, a treatment plan may include:
- Endovascular surgical treatments which open blood vessels and lead to better flow to your legs and feet
- Daily medicines designed to lower cholesterol (statins) and prevent blood clots (baby aspirins)
- Regular exercise
- Quit smoking
It’s vital to follow your doctor’s treatment plan which can help you avoid blood clots, losing a limb, gangrene and foot wounds. If left untreated, PAD could even be fatal.
Peripheral arterial disease is a preventable and manageable disease. With your doctor’s help, and the knowledge that you’re not alone, you can live a full life with PAD.