Most people know the dangers of heart attack and stroke and risk factors that can increase your chances of having one, like smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. But there is a vascular disease that drastically increases your risk of heart attack and stroke that most people don’t know about called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
PAD, also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), is a little different from other heart diseases because the blockages occur beyond the heart, specifically targeting the arteries in the abdomen, pelvis, legs, and sometimes even the arms.
Despite affecting approximately 8.5 million American adults over 40, PAD remains frequently overlooked as its early symptoms are often mistaken for other common ailments. In fact, statistics show that at least 15 percent of the population over 50 have undiagnosed PAD.
Recognizing the symptoms of PAD early on is crucial for effective management. September is PAD Awareness Month, a dedicated time to shine a spotlight on this common but often overlooked circulatory disease and the preventable complexities it can bring.
As a surgical clinic focused on vascular health, we want to do our part to spread awareness concerning PAD. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about PAD, including:
- What is PAD?
- The symptoms of PAD
- The causes and risk factors of PAD
- Complications linked to PAD
- Treatment options for PAD
- How to decrease your risk of PAD
- Why PAD Awareness Month matters
- Where to find a vascular surgeon in Tennessee
By spreading PAD awareness, we aim to help prevent misdiagnosis and neglect that could impact people with this vascular condition.
PAD AWARENESS – WHAT IS PAD?
There are many common vascular diseases, with peripheral artery disease (PAD) being one of the most common. The first step toward increased PAD awareness is understanding the disease.
PAD occurs in the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs but most commonly occurs in the legs. It is a common circulatory vascular disease that occurs when fatty deposits called plaque build up in the arteries, narrowing them and reducing blood flow to your head, organs, and limbs.
This narrowing can lead to challenges in providing enough blood to meet your body’s needs, causing symptoms like leg pain during activity that gets better with rest. It’s like a traffic jam in your blood vessels that can affect various body parts like the legs, feet, kidneys, intestines, and arms.
Think of it this way: just as clogged roads can cause traffic problems, clogged arteries can lead to health issues. PAD is like a warning sign that your body’s “roads” aren’t flowing as smoothly as they should be.
When PAD takes hold, critical organs and muscles are deprived of the necessary influx of nutrient-rich blood required for optimal functioning. It’s important to pay attention to symptoms like leg pain, cramping, or discomfort and not dismiss them as a natural part of aging.
PAD can be serious if left untreated because it increases the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attacks, or strokes.
SYMPTOMS OF PAD
Recognizing the presence of PAD can be challenging since its symptoms might not always be obvious. Some individuals might not experience any symptoms, while others could interpret discomfort in their legs or fatigue as issues like arthritis or nerve-related problems.
When symptoms of PAD do emerge, they can pose significant challenges, given the crucial role of the circulatory system in supporting all bodily functions. If you’re uncertain about your symptoms, it’s wise to undergo a physical examination and have a discussion with your doctor to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate care.
PAD’s impact is widespread, particularly among those over 50 years of age. By familiarizing yourself with its warning signs and seeking medical attention early on, you can positively influence your overall health.
Symptoms of PAD often include:
Muscle Pain Or Cramping
Many individuals with PAD experience pain or cramping in their leg muscles, particularly during physical activities. This discomfort often subsides with rest and might be mistaken for other conditions like shin splints. However, as PAD progresses, leg pain can intensify and occur during rest or when lying down.
Leg Numbness Or Weakness
Reduced blood flow can lead to sensations of numbness or weakness in the legs.
Coldness in your lower leg or foot
Poor circulation can cause the affected area to feel noticeably colder than the rest of your body.
Foot Sores Or Toe Sores That Won’t Heal
Inadequate blood flow can impede the healing of wounds, particularly in the feet and toes.
Change In Leg Color
Legs affected by PAD might appear paler or bluish due to reduced blood flow.
Difficulty Or Pain When Walking Or Climbing Stairs
This is often referred to as intermittent claudication and occurs due to inadequate blood supply during physical exertion.
Changes in nail growth or alterations in nail coloration can signal potential blood flow issues linked to PAD. Although nail irregularities are encountered in diverse medical conditions, their presence alone might not necessarily imply PAD.
However, if persistent nail modifications coincide with other symptoms like leg discomfort, cramping, or challenges in walking, seeking medical assessment becomes crucial to eliminate the prospect of PAD.
Some individuals might notice temperature disparities between their limbs, with the impacted extremity feeling colder compared to the unaffected one. Such temperature shifts can indicate compromised blood circulation attributed to PAD.
Other factors, including environmental conditions, can lead to temporary changes in skin temperature. Hence, experiencing isolated temperature variations might not be definitive proof of PAD. But if consistent temperature imbalances align with other symptoms such as leg pain, numbness, or difficulties while walking, pursuing medical evaluation is essential to explore the potential presence of PAD.
PERIPHERAL ARTERY DISEASE CAUSES
When plaque builds up in the body’s arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis, which is the most common cause of PAD. This happens when over time, plaque hardens and narrows the arteries. This can also happen in the blood vessels.
Although less common, blood clots and injuries can also trigger PAD. In such cases, these clots can obstruct blood flow, leading not only to difficulties in movement but also causing various other circulatory issues.
Additionally, the repercussions of PAD may extend beyond the primary arteries. Affected individuals might experience complications such as a weakened pulmonary vein, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), varicose veins, and even heart failure. When the pulmonary artery or vein becomes obstructed, it can also potentially give rise to respiratory problems.
RISKS FACTORS FOR PERIPHERAL ARTERY DISEASE
Recognizing that certain factors can significantly raise the likelihood of developing PAD is essential for proactive intervention. Most people with PAD have at least one condition or habit that raises their risk for vascular disease.
Risk factors for PAD, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include:
Smoking or Prior Smoking
Smoking damages blood vessels and accelerates plaque buildup, increasing the risk of PAD.
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension damages arteries, making them more prone to plaque buildup and narrowing, contributing to PAD.
Elevated cholesterol levels lead to plaque formation in arteries, restricting blood flow and causing PAD.
Narrowing of the Veins (Atherosclerosis)
Atherosclerosis, characterized by plaque accumulation, directly causes narrowing of arteries, resulting in PAD.
Diabetes damages blood vessels and affects blood sugar regulation, heightening the likelihood of developing PAD.
Being Age 50+
As age increases, arteries naturally become stiffer and narrower, elevating the risk of PAD.
African Americans are more than twice as likely to have PAD as their white counterparts.
Hispanics also have a higher predisposition to PAD. This is believed to be due to genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute to arterial damage and reduced blood flow.
COMPLICATIONS LINKED TO PAD
The most serious complication linked to PAD is the risk of heart attack and stroke. People with PAD are said to have 6 times the risk of heart attack or stroke compared to someone without PAD. This risk is due to a weakened heart muscle and circulatory system.
If you have PAD, you also have a higher risk for:
- Coronary heart disease
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI)
- Non-Healing Wounds and Ulcers
Additionally, in the later stages of PAD, when the condition has progressed significantly, severe limb ischemia and persistent non-healing wounds might require the amputation of affected limbs to avert potentially life-threatening consequences.
If you suspect you have PAD, consulting with a doctor will help you examine your symptoms and decide on the best form of treatment.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR PAD
If you have been diagnosed with PAD, you have options. These options may include taking medications, making lifestyle changes, or having a surgical procedure performed.
Your doctor will determine which of the PAD treatment options is best for you based on your medical history and the severity of your condition.
An assortment of medications can be employed to address PAD. Your doctor may prescribe medications to control blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and manage blood sugar.
Additionally, recommendations might be made for aspirin or other antiplatelet drugs to mitigate the risk of severe complications stemming from PAD and atherosclerosis.
PAD Lifestyle Changes
Lifestyle adjustments play a pivotal role in managing PAD. These changes may include adopting a heart-healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, quitting smoking, and managing underlying health conditions like diabetes.
PAD Surgical Procedures
In cases where conservative approaches are insufficient, surgical interventions can prove beneficial. These procedures aim to alleviate symptoms, enhance overall quality of life, and promote increased mobility.
Techniques like TransCarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR) offer advantages such as preventing heart attacks, strokes, and the need for amputation. TCAR involves accessing the carotid artery through a small incision above the collarbone, ensuring that debris is captured and removed during the procedure.
Blood flow is temporarily reversed during the procedure to prevent potential embolisms from entering the brain. This minimally invasive approach reduces the risk of complications, such as strokes or heart attacks, and contributes to a more efficient recovery process.
In addition to TCAR, other notable surgical approaches include angioplasty, atherectomies, stenting, and bypass graft surgery. These techniques offer diverse solutions for addressing PAD and its associated complications, allowing for personalized treatment plans based on individual circumstances.
TREATMENTS FOR PAD AT THE SURGICAL CLINIC IN NASHVILLE, TN
If you need surgical intervention for PAD or experience any complications from PAD, you should see a vascular specialist. At The Surgical Clinic, we have a vascular surgery division that consists of 13 highly skilled board-certified vascular surgeons and offer various vascular procedures and treatments.
If you are experiencing leg pain, numbness, or other symptoms, find your local vascular surgeon and contact us today for an appointment.
How to Decrease Your Risk of PAD
PAD is a lifelong condition without a definitive cure, but effective management strategies exist. By adopting proactive measures, you can impede the progression of peripheral vascular disease:
- Have regular check-ups and vascular screenings.
- Abstaining from tobacco products.
- Engage in regular physical activity.
- Adhere to a balanced, heart-healthy diet.
- Effectively manage underlying risk factors of PAD like diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Why PAD Awareness Month Matters
PAD Awareness Month in September presents a valuable opportunity to effect positive change and increase awareness about this treatable yet often underestimated condition.
As The Surgical Clinic emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about this condition, we invite you to join our efforts by sharing this information during PAD Awareness Month. Participation can help promote understanding and early intervention, ultimately improving health outcomes.
The most pivotal and impactful action you can take during this awareness month is to undergo a PAD screening and encourage your peers, friends, and family members to follow suit. Early detection remains a cornerstone in averting complications and enhancing the prognosis for those grappling with this vascular ailment.
Beyond personal screenings, your support in the battle against PAD can extend to contributing to fundraising endeavors aimed at organizations devoted to this cause. You can also leverage the power of social media to enlighten your followers about PAD, stressing the significance of early detection and management.
Still Have Questions About Leg Pain and PAD?
If you find yourself still seeking answers about leg pain and its potential connection to Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), you’re not alone in your quest for understanding.
PAD might appear daunting, especially when you consider the symptoms you may be grappling with and the heightened awareness during PAD Awareness Month. However, as reiterated earlier, early detection makes PAD highly manageable, enabling you to lead a vibrant and healthy life.
At The Surgical Clinic, our focus is on you. Our dedicated vascular specialists take pride in delivering both surgical and non-surgical solutions for all types of vascular ailments, including PAD. Find a clinic location near you and schedule an appointment for a vascular screening or meeting with one of our vascular surgeons to assess your risk of peripheral artery disease and to explore your options if you have been diagnosed with PAD.