Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is an often dangerously undiagnosed circulatory condition that affects as many as 12 million Americans. Read on to learn what it is, what the warning signs are, what treatment options are available and what you can do.
PAD is a narrowing of the peripheral arteries that serve the stomach, arms and head, and most commonly in the legs. It’s caused by atherosclerosis, which narrows and blocks arteries in critical regions of the body.
Often people who have PAD have no symptoms, while others have muscle pain or cramping in their legs when walking. If PAD progresses, pain may even occur when you’re at rest. Other symptoms include leg numbness or weakness, coldness in the lower leg or foot on one side, sores on your feet or legs that won’t heal, a change in the color of your legs, hair loss on feet or legs, shiny skin on your legs, and no pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet. Some men have erectile dysfunction with PAD. See your doctor if you experience these symptoms to make an appointment for PAD screening.
Factors that increase your risk for PAD include increasing age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes. A family history of PAD, heart disease or stroke also increases your risk of PAD.
To diagnose PAD, your doctor will do a physical exam. Your doctor may also compare the blood pressure in your ankle with that in your arm using an ankle-brachial index test. Ultrasound, angiography and blood tests may also be used to diagnose PAD.
Once you are diagnosed with PAD, you can take control of this condition and work to have a heart-healthy lifestyle. Many cases of PAD can be managed through lifestyle changes and medications. Follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly and quit tobacco. In some cases, PAD may require angioplasty or surgery.