Timely and considerate care of the arterial and venous systems.
Do your legs hurt after walking or climbing up the stairs? You may have peripheral artery disease (PAD).
PAD is a condition where fatty deposits build up in the inner linings of the artery walls. These blockages decrease blood circulation, mainly in arteries leading to the legs and feet, but may also affect the arteries leading to the kidneys, stomach, and arms. In its early stages a common symptom is cramping or fatigue in the legs and buttocks during activity. Such cramping disappears when the person stands still. This is called “intermittent claudication.” People with PAD often have fatty buildup in the arteries of the heart and brain. Because of this association, most people with PAD have a higher risk of death from heart attack and stroke.
You may have PAD if you are a smoker, have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or are obese.
Techniques used to diagnose PAD include a medical history, physical exam, ultrasound, X-ray angiography and magnetic resonance imaging angiography (MRA).
Most people with PAD can be treated with lifestyle changes, medications or both. Lifestyle changes to lower your risk include stopping smoking (smokers have a particularly strong risk of PAD), controlling diabetes, controlling blood pressure, being physically active, and eating a low-saturated-fat and low-cholesterol diet.
PAD may require drug treatment, too. Drugs include medicines to help improve walking distance, platelet blocking agents to thin the blood, and cholesterol-lowering agents (statins) to reduce the formation of new blockages.
In a minority of patients, lifestyle modifications alone are not sufficient. In these cases, angioplasty or surgery may be necessary.
Angioplasty is a non-surgical procedure that can be used to widen narrowed or blocked peripheral arteries. A thin tube, called a catheter, with a deflated balloon on its tip is passed into the narrowed artery segment. The balloon is inflated to widen the narrowing. Finally, the balloon is deflated and the catheter is withdrawn. Often a stent — a cylindrical, wire mesh tube — is placed in the narrowed artery with a catheter. There the stent expands and locks open. It stays in that spot, keeping the diseased artery open. Newer techniques that use lasers or special miniature drills can sometimes also be used to reopen or widen diseased arteries.
If the narrowing involves a long portion of an artery, surgery may be necessary. A vein from another part of the body or a plastic vessel is used. It is attached above and below the blocked area to reroute blood around the blocked spot.
If you walk and develop calf, thigh or buttock pain, and you either smoke, have high cholesterol, diabetes, or are obese call your doctor to be evaluated for peripheral arterial disease.