We are reminded daily to maintain an active lifestyle and healthy diet to help decrease our chances of having heart disease or a stroke — but we are also protecting ourselves from other vascular conditions that can develop, including peripheral arterial disease, or PAD.
"PAD is a form of atherosclerosis, simply defined as hardening of the arteries," says Matthew Recht MD, a vascular surgeon with the TriHealth Heart Institute.
PAD: What is It?
"The disease most commonly occurs in your legs and decreases blood flow due to plaque buildup," Dr. Recht explains. As artery walls become thicker, they also become less elastic, making it harder for your arteries to dilate and allow for more blood flow when needed. PAD is common in individuals over 50, especially men, with one in three people over the age of 70 being diagnosed with the disease.
Aside from age, you may have an increased risk of developing PAD with any of the following risk factors:
PAD: Signs and Symptoms
PAD is often asymptomatic in its early stages, but as the disease progresses, the most common symptom is pain in the legs, known as intermittent claudication (IC). IC generally occurs in the calves or thighs, and may include:
- Pain or cramps in the calves or buttocks
- Muscle discomfort
The above symptoms most commonly occur with walking or exercise, and tend to stop once you are at rest. As the disease progresses, IC typically follows a progression pattern:
- Symptoms occur with longer, more brisk walks, and when you are walking on an incline.
- Faster onset of symptoms, with less exercise.
If left untreated, more serious symptoms can occur, and may result in amputation.
PAD: Lifestyle is Important for Success
If you are diagnosed with PAD, most treatment options revolve around lifestyle changes, including:
- Regular exercise balanced with rest
- Smoking cessation
- Taking care of your feet and contacting your doctor immediately if cuts or bruises develop
- Ensuring your blood pressure is controlled
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a low-cholesterol/low-fat diet
- Monitoring and controlling blood sugar levels if diabetic
"Medications or procedures to improve blood flow to your legs may be considered if lifestyle changes aren't enough," Dr. Recht explains. "Many times these procedures include a minimally invasive angiogram."
It is important to schedule a vascular screening if you have any risk factors for developing PAD. If diagnosed with PAD, a vascular specialist can offer you all of the treatment options available.