Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is becoming more and more prevalent in America. Our love of fast food and convenience has lead to almost 10 million Americans to be diagnosed with PAD. Our body naturally starts forming plaques in our arteries. This is part of the aging process. Unhealthy lifestyles though cause abnormal increases in plaque and as we get older, these high levels of plaque hardens and causes narrowing of the blood vessels. Arteries supply the body with blood rich in oxygen. If the vessels narrow, the body is not getting the appropriate amount of oxygen to the organs and muscles. Thus, those with PAD are four times more likely to have a heart attack and almost three times more likely to have a stroke.
Who is at Risk? Those with diabetes have a significant risk in developing PAD. So much so, that the American Diabetes Association recommend everyone with diabetes over the age of 50 should be tested. Other high risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history of heart disease, or being overweight. Smoking will also increase your likelihood of developing PADS by four times.
The first signs and symptoms of PAD are often first seen in the legs and feet. This is why we highly encourage high risk patients to pay close attention to pain, discomfort or open lesions in the legs and feet. One will often feel like their legs get tired or painful when walking or climbing exercise. When experiencing this pain, it will go away with rest. This is termed intermittent claudicating and is a sign that your muscles are not getting enough oxygen. One may also feel numbness or tingling, coldness, changes in color, hair loss on the legs and feet. These are all be signs of a serious problem, but some people who have PAD do not appear with any of these symptoms. Thus it is very important to still get tested if you are at risk.
How to get tested? If you are experiencing any of symptoms above or are at high risk of getting PAD, you should consult a health care provider. Testing for PAD is noninvasive, pain free, quick and easy! The examiner will either use a standardized machine or manually take your blood pressure on your arm, ankle and other areas on your leg. Significant changes in your blood pressure in your legs and or ankle is diagnostic of PAD.
What to do if you have PAD. It is important to take the steps to adjust your lifestyle to prevent the progression of the disease. It is advised that patients stop smoking, lose weight, and exercise to improve blood flow. All treatment plans should be thoroughly discussed with your doctor to know what options are right for your body. The doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication, encourage physical therapy, and in critical conditions, surgery may be necessary.
Those suffering from PAD are at an increased risk of having several foot issues including non-healing ulcers. PAD patients should visit a podiatrist regularly for foot screenings and management of foot and ankle problems. A growing number of the American population are having foot and leg amputations due to the effects of diabetes and PAD. Many of these amputations are highly preventable when people take the appropriate steps to care for their feet and consult a podiatric physician when suffering from any foot and leg pain or abnormalities.