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Peripheral Artery Disease: Are You At Risk?

February 24, 2021
Peripheral Artery Disease: Are You At Risk?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) affects one in 20 Americans over the age of 50. It occurs when plaque, a fatty deposit, builds up in the arteries, restricting blood flow to your legs. These fatty deposits put the individual at a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. The problem is that buildup of plaque may not result in any detectable symptoms.

“That’s why it’s very important to not only know the potential symptoms, but also the risk factors so you can talk with your doctor if you fear you are at increased risk or are experiencing PAD, says Mark Broering, MD, a vascular surgeon with the TriHealth Heart Institute.

When assessing your risk for PAD, your doctor will take a personal and family medical history. He or she also will perform a physical exam to check pulses, color and temperature of the legs and feet, and may perform an ankle-brachial index. This test compares the blood pressure in your ankles with that in your arms. If PAD is suspected, your doctor also may order an ultrasound to try to identify the blocked artery.

Treatment of Peripheral Artery Disease

Treatment options for PAD include lifestyle changes, medication and surgery. Lifestyle changes that improve PAD include quitting smoking, improving cholesterol and blood glucose levels, eating a healthy diet, exercising and achieving or maintaining a healthy weight.

Medical treatment may include prescriptions to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, manage diabetes or prevent the formation of blood clots.

In addition, surgery or other medical procedures may be used to unclog arteries.

“The best thing you can do to decrease your risk for peripheral arterial disease is to make the correct lifestyle changes now, if necessary, or to maintain your healthy lifestyle into the future,” says Dr. Broering. “Be sure talk to talk to primary care provider about what lifestyle changes might be most impactful for you.”

PAD is one of hundreds of conditions that develop in patients who have high cholesterol, are overweight, don’t exercise, have diabetes or smoke.

Remedying these health issues will help reduce your risk of PAD and countless other conditions as you age. Why not start now? Your future self will thank you for it.

Risk Factors

You may be at increased risk for PAD if any of these are true:

  • You are over the age of 50
  • You are a smoker or former smoker
  • You have diabetes
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have a history of vascular disease
  • You are African-American

Symptoms to Watch For

Some people with PAD may not experience any symptoms. For those who do, symptoms may include:

  • Claudication—heaviness, tiredness or cramping in the leg that occurs during activity and resolves after the activity is stopped
  • Sores on toes, feet or legs that heal slowly or not at all
  • Pain in the legs or feet that wakes you up or prevents sleep
  • Color changes in the feet, particularly blueness
  • Poor nail growth or decreased hair growth on the legs
  • A lower temperature in one leg than the other.