Learn About Peripheral Disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD), which refers to clogged blood vessels in the legs and arms, affects approximately 10 million American adults age 50 and older. However, not all individuals with PAD seek treatment even though they are at higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

If you have a personal history of vascular disease, or genetics predisposes you to coronary artery disease, becoming better informed about peripheral artery disease can help you have a better quality of life. Knowledge of PAD may even save your life.

Know the Possible Causes

Although atherosclerosis is often the cause of PAD, an injury to your extremities or inflammation that thickens and weakens blood vessel walls are additional causes of the disease. If you have atherosclerosis, fatty deposits — known as plaque — restrict blood flow when they build up on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your limbs.

When this happens, your muscles don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need to function. Since your muscles need more blood when you are physically active, when PAD causes the blockage of arteries, your muscles can hurt with movement. Generally, the pain eases when you rest, but if the blockage is severe, the pain may not go away even then.

Beware of the Potential Complications

A buildup of plaque in your blood vessels not only puts you at risk of developing PAD, you are also at risk of stroke and heart attack if fatty deposits accumulate in the arteries that supply blood to your heart and brain. You can also develop a condition known as critical limb ischemia if you sustain an injury or get a sore on or an infection in your legs or feet that doesn’t heal.

Ulcers that develop on the legs or feet is another possible complication of PAD. When plaque impedes normal blood flow, healing may not occur. If you have diabetes and suffer neuropathy, which causes numbness, you may not feel pain in your feet. In severe cases, gangrene — or tissue death — can occur, which may lead to amputation of the affected limb if ischemic ulcers go untreated.

Recognize the Symptoms

Symptoms of PAD may include an aching pain when you walk, leg cramping when you lie down, or numbness in the calf. Your lower legs or feet can feel cold or the skin on your legs may look shiny. Thick toenails, loss of leg hair, and sores on your feet and legs that don’t heal are other symptoms that can occur.

Although many individuals with PAD suffer mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, some people experience intermittent claudication or pain in the lower extremities upon exertion. However, for some individuals, pain is so severe that it becomes debilitating.

Consider Your Risk Factors

Common risk factors include age, a sedentary lifestyle, and family history of coronary artery disease. Gender is another risk factor, as the disease tends to be more common in men than in women.

Smoking and obesity also increase your risk of developing PAD, as can chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and high cholesterol. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances that your PAD will be more severe.

Explore the Treatment Options for PAD

Successful treatment can reduce the risk of complications and slow or even stop the progress of the disease. Which treatments your doctor recommends depends on your personal risk factors and the severity of your PAD.

Medications/Lifestyle Changes

Medications can help improve blood flow, prevent blood clots, lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and control blood pressure. Medications that increase blood flow to the limbs work by thinning the blood and widening blood vessels narrowed by plaque buildup. This helps reduce leg pain and the risk of a blood clot forming and blocking an artery.

If medications and lifestyle changes that include regular physical activity, healthy eating, and smoking cessation aren’t enough to improve circulation and relieve your symptoms, surgery may be necessary. A vascular surgeon will determine whether you need open bypass surgery of the leg or an endovascular procedure to improve blood flow.

Bypass or Endovascular Surgery

Bypass surgery involves the surgeon using a synthetic fabric blood vessel or taking a blood vessel from another part of your body to create a way for blood to flow around the blocked artery. An endovascular procedure is a less invasive surgical procedure in which a surgeon inserts a stent or balloon catheter into the vessel to widen it and clear blockages so that blood can flow more freely.

Thrombolytic Therapy

Thrombolytic therapy is another treatment option doctors use to break up or dissolve a blood clot blocking an artery. The doctor injects a drug into your artery to dissolve a blood clot and quickly restore blood flow through the vessel. This prevents blood and oxygen from being cut off to parts of your body, causing additional damage.

When seeking treatment for peripheral artery disease, the physicians at The Surgical Clinic can evaluate blood flow through vessels of the arms and legs and recommend treatment to reduce your symptoms and prevent the disease from progressing.

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