It starts in the lower part of the leg—the pain can be so severe, patients typically have to stop physical activity. “It happens because you have less circulation to the muscle and the muscle aches,” said Dr. Ronnie Word, a vascular surgeon with Lee Health.
While blockages can happen in any artery in the body—doctors say when it happens in the arteries of the legs, it’s called peripheral artery disease, or PAD for short. “Peripheral artery disease is a hardening of the blood vessels of the lower extremities. You basically start developing blockages in the blood vessels,” explained Dr. Word.
As the disease progresses—so do the symptoms. Patients are at risk of developing sores on their legs and feet. If left untreated, patients are also at risk for a heart attack or stroke. “The first line of therapy should always be medical treatment. You’ve got to control the risk factors that gave you the problem,” he said.
Things like smoking, uncontrolled diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and a sedentary lifestyle can all put you at risk for developing peripheral artery disease. “If you smoke, you’ve got to stop. If you’re diabetic, you’ve got to control your sugar; you need to diet, if you’re obese you’ve got to lose weight, you’ve got to exercise, you’ve got to control your blood pressure,” Dr. Word said.
In more severe cases, patients may need a stent or open surgery to treat PAD. “If your symptoms are disabling or if you have now open wounds and more advanced symptoms, then we need to open the blood vessels for you. We need to fix them,” he explained.
Because exercise is critical to improving PAD symptoms, Patients with the diagnosis can receive supervised exercise therapy at Lee Health.