Over 8 million people in the United States who are 40 years and older have peripheral artery disease (PAD), sometimes also called peripheral arterial disease, which affects the circulatory system. In people with PAD, the arteries that carry blood to the body’s tissues become narrowed, decreasing blood flow to the extremities and robbing them of needed oxygen. It’s most often caused by atherosclerosis, where a sticky plaque builds up on the arterial walls, though you can develop it as a result of an injury that causes chronic inflammation in the blood vessels.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care, with locations in Southfield and Novi, Michigan, our board-certified vascular physicians develop customized treatment plans for their patients with peripheral artery disease that focus on relieving your pain and other symptoms while slowing down the disease’s progression. They also focus on educating patients about their condition, which is why they’ve put together this guide to help you understand PAD.
Risk factors for and complications of PAD
Many of the risk factors for peripheral artery disease are the same as for coronary (heart) artery disease, since each develops from plaque buildup. These factors include:
- Increased age (especially after 65)
- Obesity (a body mass index over 30)
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- A family history
Those who smoke and/or have diabetes run the greatest risk of developing PAD, since both lead to reduced blood flow.
Individuals whose PAD results from atherosclerosis are at the greatest risk of also developing:
- Critical limb ischemia: characterized by open sores that don’t heal along with infection of your feet or legs that leads to tissue death and possible amputation
- Stroke and heart attack: fat deposits build up in arteries supplying blood to brain and heart
Symptoms of PAD
Many people with PAD have mild or even no symptoms, but some have leg pain when walking (claudication), which varies from mildly annoying to so debilitating you can’t walk.
Peripheral artery disease signs and symptoms also include:
- Leg muscle pain or cramping
- Leg weakness or numbness
- Coldness in your lower leg or foot
- Foot or leg sores that won’t heal
- A reddish color on your legs (venous stasis dermatitis)
- Shiny skin
- Hair loss
- A weak pulse in your legs or feet
- Erectile dysfunction (ED) in men
Diagnosis and treatment of PAD
After taking a medical history and examining your risk factors for PAD, your doctor performs a physical exam, which includes listening for poor blood flow, measuring your pulse at various points, and noting any color changes or ulcers on your legs and feet.
Comprehensive Vascular Care also provides on-site diagnostic testing to confirm or rule out a PAD diagnosis. Tests may include measuring the ankle-brachial index (ABI), which compares the blood pressure in your ankle to the pressure in your arm; taking an ultrasound of your blood vessels for structural changes; or performing an angiography to determine how blood is flowing through your arteries.
Peripheral artery disease treatment has two major goals:
- Manage pain and additional symptoms so you can resume physical activities
- Stop the progression of atherosclerosis
We encourage you to meet these goals with lifestyle changes, especially if you’re in the early stages of PAD. If you smoke, the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of any complications is to quit. A supervised exercise program, where you’re walking or doing any other form of exercise regularly, can also improve your symptoms dramatically.
If you’re having a number of symptoms, you’ll probably also need medical treatment. The first things to try are medications, such as those to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, control pain, and reduce blood sugar levels if you’re a diabetic.
The next step, if the medications don’t help, is an angioplasty, a procedure where we thread a small, flexible tube through your affected artery to clear blockages. We may also need to place a stent in the artery to keep your blood flowing efficiently.
Bypass surgery is another potential treatment for PAD. For this procedure, we create a synthetic graft that allows blood to bypass the blocked artery, improving your circulation.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of peripheral artery disease, or if you have a number of risk factors, contact Comprehensive Vascular Care to get it checked out. You can call us at either of our locations, or you can schedule your appointment online.