Every year, the beginning of September marks the beginning of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) Awareness Month. As you can tell by the name, the goal of this month is to raise awareness for PAD and encourage anyone at risk to get screened for PAD.
Now, if you don’t know much about PAD, you may be asking “why is PAD screening so important?” In order to address that question, let’s discuss more on why you should get screened peripheral artery disease.
What Is Peripheral Artery Disease?
Peripheral artery disease is a vascular disease caused by blockages in the arteries. These blockages are caused by the build-up of plaque and the formation of blood clots. Plaque in particular can build up over time and narrow the arteries, leading to a condition called atherosclerosis.
Obviously, atherosclerosis reduces the amount of blood that travels through your body. As a result, your vital organs lose out on the amount of oxygen they need. The legs are especially vulnerable to losing vital blood flow, which leads to additional problems.
What are the Symptoms of PAD?
The trouble with PAD is that most people do not notice the symptoms until a critical issue arises. However, there are some signs that can be detected and diagnosed with a simple screening at your local doctor’s office.
One of the first symptoms is leg pain that occurs when walking, medically called claudication. Most of the time, the pain is not constant and is therefore called intermittent claudication. The pain occurs because there’s not enough blood flow to your muscles.
So, if you notice pain or weakness in your legs when walking or climbing stairs you should go see a doctor for a PAD screening.
Related: Peripheral Arterial Disease: Don’t Ignore It
Next Level Symptoms
If left undetected or untreated, PAD can lead to more significant physical symptoms, especially in the legs and feet.
The most detectable symptom is weak or absent pulses through your legs and feet. These abnormal pulses can be detected easily during a PAD screening. Treating PAD at this stage is the easiest way to recover and heal.
However, at further stages, symptoms become more physical. Without enough quality circulation, your body’s tissues have a more difficult time recovering from injuries and maintaining tissue health. As a result, you may notice ulcers, sores, or wounds open on your legs and feet that either take far too long to heal or don’t heal at all.
Other signs include poor toenail growth, hair growth, and temperature differences when comparing one leg to another. In the most extreme cases, the toes may begin to develop gangrene or tissue decay.
Why You Should Get Screened for PAD
If you haven’t put it together already, PAD causes significant problems if left untreated. Not only can it cause all of the troubling symptoms above, but it can even lead to limb loss and more vascular problems like heart disease. Learn more about Why PAD Matters from the American Heart Association.
The earlier that PAD is detected, the sooner it can be treated. Which will save you from expensive and serious medical operations down the road.
What Is a PAD Screening?
Your doctor can easily detect and diagnose PAD symptoms at an office visit. The first and most basic screening involves feeling the pulses through the leg veins and down into the feet. Here your doctor is looking for irregularities in your pulse or an absence of your pulse.
Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI)
The most reliable test involves measuring the ankle-brachial index or ABI. During this test, your doctor will measure your blood pressure at your ankle and then in your arms with a handheld ultrasound device. Your doctor will then compare those results to show your ABI. A low ABI is a key indicator of narrowing veins and arteries.
Pulse Volume Recording
Instead of measuring your blood pressure like an ABI test, this test measures the blood volume changes in your legs. During this test, your doctor will use blood pressure cuffs to measure the changes in blood volume and observe them in the waveform.
These tests may also involve running on a treadmill and measuring changes in blood pressure and leg pain. You may also hear this test referred to as a treadmill test.
In this simple test, your doctor will use a handheld ultrasound device to examine the blood flow through your arteries. It’s a non-invasive, no stress test that is usually completed in under 90 minutes.
Magnetic Resonance Angiogram
This test is more involved than the previous tests, but it is one of the most effective ways to find blocked arteries and blood vessels. Basically, a magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) is an MRI that focuses on your circulatory system.
However, this test may not be for you. If you currently have a pacemaker, a replacement joint, a mechanical heart valve, or a vein stent an MRA may not be for you. If you have any metal devices in your body, you should talk to your doctor if you’re considering an MRA.
Aside from an MRA, this is one of the most detailed PAD exams available. However, it is more invasive, but it does provide a “road map” to your veins.
This test involves injecting a dye into your bloodstream that’s visible to x-rays. Then, after allowing the dye to travel through your bloodstream, your doctor will take an x-ray in order to reveal the blocked or narrowing arteries.
Alternatively, your doctor may provide intravascular ultrasounds, which send a camera mounted on a catheter through your veins for a detailed examination.
What Causes PAD?
There are several risk factors associated with PAD. Foremost among them is age. People over the age of 70 especially have a higher risk of developing PAD. Other risk factors include:
- Family History
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- History of Stroke
- Metabolic Syndrome
Smoking and diabetes play a significant role in the development of PAD. Experts at the UCSF Department of Surgery recommend that people age 50 and older should also receive a PAD screening if they have a history of smoking or have diabetes.
Remember, the sooner PAD is detected, the easier treatment will be.
PAD Treatment Options
At the Surgical Clinic, our providers offer traditional stent placement and vein surgery. However, our surgeons are also trained in the trans-carotid artery revascularization or TCAR procedure. This treatment has improved results and lower risks when compared to older stenting procedures.
Preventing or Managing PAD
Depending on your symptoms, health, and medical history you may be able to prevent PAD. The best things you can do is quit smoking, eat healthily, and get regular exercise. Together, these choices and habits will strengthen your veins, reduce cholesterol, and improve your circulatory system.
PAD Treatment at The Surgical Clinic in Tennessee
We have many surgeons and medical providers trained in vascular health and vascular surgery. If you or a loved one are at risk for PAD, give us a call to schedule an appointment. Don’t wait for an emergency. Be proactive about your health now and your body will thank you later.