Cramps? Wounds that won’t heal? It could be this common disease.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition in which the vessels that bring blood from the heart to the legs narrow or become blocked, affects about 6.5 million people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those most affected are over 50 years old and are diabetic, hypertensive, have high cholesterol or smoke.
You’d likely be surprised to learn that most people with PAD experience no symptoms. This may be due to limited activity or a sedentary lifestyle. But symptomatic or not, those with PAD are at an increased risk of a cardiac event such as heart attack, cardiac arrest or stroke, and ultimately death.
Left untreated, PAD will worsen. Individuals may experience leg or calf muscle pain and cramping when exercising or walking that gets better when resting, known as intermittent claudication (IC). If care is sought out, a physician will order vascular studies and a specialist will determine next steps, which may include risk modification, lifestyle changes and medical management. If lifestyle-limiting claudication or advanced PAD is detected, a procedure known as an angiogram can be performed to improve blood flow. In early stages of IC, treatment may mean daily doses of aspirin, statins and sometimes vasodilator medications (medications that open blood vessels) along with an exercise regimen.
With further progression of PAD can come critical limb ischemia (CLI). Blood flow is extremely limited and affected individuals may experience leg pain while resting that can even wake them up at night. The person may develop a non-healing wound or gangrene. Those with CLI are at high risk for major amputation and urgently need to be seen by a vascular specialist for diagnosis, further imaging and vascular procedure to improve blood flow and prevent leg amputation. Out of all individuals with PAD, those with CLI have the highest risk of stroke, heart attack and amputation.
If you are living with PAD, follow up with your primary care physician regularly to be evaluated for cardiac disease, carotid disease and high cholesterol.
When it comes to PAD, prevention is key. Eat a healthy diet complete with fruits and vegetables, limit your red meat consumption and exercise regularly.
You should be evaluated for PAD if:
- You are over the age of 50 and have:
- High cholesterol
- You currently use tobacco or have a history of tobacco use
- Your legs hurt or cramp when walking and feel better upon resting
- You have a leg or foot wound that won’t heal
- You experience leg pain while resting
Prompt recognition by a primary care physician and proper treatment by a vascular specialist can save time and prevent limb loss.
Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz to learn more.