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Pay Close Attention to Symptoms of PAD

Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD, is a condition that often goes undiagnosed by healthcare professionals and can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or an amputation.

With PAD, the peripheral arteries (blood vessels outside the heart) may experience the build-up of fat and cholesterol deposits, called plaque, on the inside walls due to atherosclerosis (or hardening of the arteries). Over time, this build-up narrows the artery, causing less blood to flow. You should consult with a physician if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Painful leg cramping after such activities as walking or climbing stairs
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Coldness in your lower leg or foot
  • Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won’t heal
  • A change in the color of your legs

People who smoke or have diabetes have the greatest risk of developing PAD due to reduced blood flow. Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a family history of PAD are also risk factors. Most people with the condition are over the age of 50.

Treatment for peripheral artery disease has two major goals. The first is to manage symptoms, such as leg pain, so that you can resume physical activities. The second is to stop the progression of atherosclerosis throughout your body to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

You may be able to accomplish these goals with lifestyle changes. If you smoke, quitting is the single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of complications. If lifestyle changes are not enough, you may be prescribed medicine to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure and lose weight. An exercise program to increase the distances you can walk pain-free may be prescribed.

In some cases angioplasty, bypass or thrombolytic therapy surgery may be necessary to treat PAD. With angioplasty, a catheter is threaded through a blood vessel to the affected artery. There, a small balloon on the tip of the catheter is inflated to reopen the artery and flatten the blockage into the artery wall, while at the same time stretching the artery to increase blood flow. A mesh framework called a stent may be placed in the artery to help keep it open. This is the same procedure doctors use for open heart arteries.

In bypass surgery, the doctor creates a graft bypass using a vessel from another part of your body or a blood vessel made of synthetic fabric. This technique allows blood to flow around — or bypass — the blocked or narrowed artery. With thrombolytic therapy, a clot-dissolving drug is injected into your artery at the point of the clot to break it up.

Remember to keep these symptoms in mind and make sure to tell someone if you notice something out of the ordinary. Stay healthy and fit.

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