Chest pain and chest pressure
Understanding Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
What is it?
Peripheral artery disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease, atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries -- is a disorder that occurs in the arteries of the circulatory system. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrient-rich blood from the heart to all areas of the body. PAD occurs in the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs.
Healthy arteries have a smooth lining that prevents blood from clotting and promotes steady blood flow. In PAD, material (plaques) builds up in the arteries in your legs, arms and other areas, reducing or blocking the blood flow that nourishes organs and other tissues, causing damage to the tissues and eventually tissue death.
If left untreated, patients with PAD can develop serious health problems, including:
- Heart attack: permanent damage to the heart muscle caused by a lack of blood supply to the heart for an extended time
- Stroke: interruption of the blood flow to the brain
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA): a temporary interruption in the blood supply to the brain
- Renal artery disease or stenosis: a narrowing or blockage of the artery that supplies blood to the kidney
- Amputation: the removal of part or all of the foot or leg (rarely the arm), especially in people who also have diabetes
What are the symptoms?
PAD can build up over a lifetime, and the symptoms may not become obvious until later in life. For many people, the outward symptoms will not appear until the artery has narrowed by 60 percent or more.
Most common symptoms of peripheral artery disease are:
- Leg discomfort, pain or cramping with activity
- Numbness, weakness, heaviness or fatigue in the leg muscles when walking
- A burning or aching pain in the feet and toes while resting, especially at night while lying flat
- Cool skin in the feet
- Redness or other color changes of the skin
- Increased occurrence of infection
- Toe and foot sores that do not heal
Many people with PAD do not have any symptoms.
Talk to your doctor if you are having symptoms of PAD so the cause of your symptoms can be identified and treatment can be initiated as soon as possible. Early detection of PAD is important so the right treatments can be provided before the disease becomes severe enough to lead to complications, such as heart attack or stroke.
How is it treated?
Initial treatment of PAD includes making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk factors. Changes you can make to manage your condition include:
- Quit smoking. Ask your doctor about smoking cessation programs available in your community.
- Eat a balanced diet that is high in fiber and low in cholesterol, fat and sodium. Limit fat to 30 percent of your total daily calories. Saturated fat should account for no more than seven percent of your total calories. Avoid trans fats including products made with partially-hydrogenated and hydrogenated vegetable oils. If you are overweight, losing weight will help you lower your total cholesterol and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. A registered dietitian can help you make the right dietary changes.
- Exercise. Begin a regular exercise program, such as walking. Walking is very important and can aid the treatment of PAD. Patients who walk regularly can expect a marked improvement in the distance they are able to walk before experiencing leg pain.
- Manage other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.
- Practice good foot and skin care to prevent infection and reduce the risk of complications.
- Medication. Medication may be recommended to treat conditions such as high blood pressure (anti-hypertensive medications) or high cholesterol (statin medications). An antiplatelet medication such as aspirin or clopidogrel (Plavix) may be prescribed to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Interventional procedures. More advanced PAD can be treated with interventional procedures such as angioplasty (to widen or clear the blocked vessel), angioplasty with stent placement (to support the cleared vessel and keep it open), or atherectomy (to remove the blockage).
In some cases, surgical procedures such as peripheral artery bypass surgery may be performed to reroute blood flow around the blood vessel blockage.
What is Lee Health's approach?
At Lee Health, we use advanced imaging tests, including ultrasound, computerized tomography angiogram, magnetic resonance angiogram and angiogram, to accurately diagnose peripheral artery disease. We work together to evaluate and treat your condition.
The doctors of Lee Health have expertise treating people who have peripheral artery disease using medications, angioplasty, stenting, angioplasty and bypass surgery. Our doctors work with you to determine the most appropriate treatment for your condition.
Who should I contact?
If you are experiencing pain, numbness, fatigue, redness or other color change of the legs, feet or toes, contact your doctor. If you don't have a doctor, call Lee Physician Group at 239-481-4111.