8.5 million Americans are affected by PAD, but many don’t know they have it. Are you one of them?
You may have heard of coronary artery disease (CAD), but you might not be familiar with peripheral artery disease, or PAD. Both PAD and CAD are caused by atherosclerosis, where plaque, made up of deposits of fats, cholesterol, and other substances, builds up and narrows arteries.
PAD impacts blood flow to the legs, stomach, arms, and head.
The risk with PAD is that the plaque can impact circulation and cause a blood clot to form. A clot can further narrow the artery, or completely block it, causing pain, difficulty walking, or sores. A total loss of circulation can cause gangrene, especially in the legs and feet. Untreated, PAD can lead to the loss of a limb or a stroke.
Know what to look for
PAD is particularly dangerous, because there are no symptoms, or symptoms are often mistaken for something else. Watch out for cramping, pain, or tiredness in your legs/hips when walking or climbing stairs that feels better when you rest but comes back when you start again. PAD pain occurs in muscles, not joints, but many people still chalk up PAD signs to arthritis or injury.
Risk factors for PAD
- Increased age
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
How PAD is diagnosed and treated
Since PAD symptoms can be missed, when you DO go to the doctor with pain, it’s important to be specific about the quality and location of your pain and when it flares. Your healthcare provider may check your pulse in your legs or feet or may compare the blood pressure in your arms to that in your feet. PAD can also be diagnosed with an ultrasound or CT scan. If PAD is suspected, an angiography with a contrast dye can be used to pinpoint any blockages.
Patients with PAD are at risk for developing coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Treatment includes controlling the risk factors, increasing activity, and taking aspirin or other medication to reduce plaque buildup. Severe cases of PAD may require surgery to bypass blocked arteries.
PAD is silent and mimics muscle strain, so knowing about PAD and understanding your risk factors is the best way to prevent it from impacting your health.