Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) or Peripheral vascular disease affects the blood vessels causing them to become narrow which restricts the blood flow to the arms, kidney, stomach, and legs. It’s a very common circulatory problem which reduces the blood flow to some parts of the body, most commonly the legs. With this condition, the part of the body doesn’t receive enough blood according to the requirement.
Peripheral Artery Disease is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke with men at a slightly higher risk than women. About 8.5 million Americans suffer from this condition, affecting nearly 12-20 percent of Americans over 60.
Most people suffering from this condition have mild or no symptoms. Most commonly, people feel pain in the legs while walking, known as claudication, with symptoms such as muscle pain and cramps. The location of the pain depends on the location of the narrowed artery. Calf pain is the most common location. The pain could be severe in some cases, making it difficult for the person to walk or participate in physical activities. The signs and symptoms include:
- Thigh or calf pain
- Hair Loss or slower hair growth on the feet and legs
- Weakness or numbness in the legs
- Erectile dysfunction in men
- Shiny skin on the legs
- Slower growth of toenails
- Weak pulse in the leg or foot
- Sores on the legs and feet
- Brittle toenails
Causes of peripheral artery disease:
Peripheral Artery Disease is often caused by atherosclerosis, in which fatty deposits reduce the blood flow as they build upon the artery walls. Other causes can be blood vessel inflammation, limbs injury, unusual autonomy of muscles, and ligaments.
The risk factors that increase the risk of developing peripheral artery disease are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physically inactiveness
- Family history of peripheral artery disease, heart disease, or stroke
- High levels of C-reactive protein or homocysteine
To diagnose this condition, the doctor may prefer one of the following methods:
- Physical exam: Physical examination can be helpful to find the symptoms which are related to this condition, such as bruits over the arteries heard using a stethoscope, poor wound healing, decreased blood pressure in the affected part of the body, or a weak pulse below the narrow area of the affected artery. Usually, the doctor starts with a physical exam, which is only successful if the symptoms of the disease are visible and can be diagnosed.
- Ankle-brachial Index (ABI): This test is commonly used to diagnose peripheral artery disease using blood pressure levels. It involves evaluating blood pressure under different scenarios. The blood pressure in the ankles is compared with the blood pressure in the arms to look for the differences. Furthermore, blood pressure readings are evaluated before and after exercise to figure out the severity of the narrowed arteries. The doctors generally use a special ultrasound device to evaluate blood pressure and flow.
- Ultrasound: Special ultrasound imaging techniques can help in evaluating the blood vessels and look for any blocked or narrowed arteries.
- Blood tests: A sample of blood can be used to measure cholesterol levels, which may point towards PAD. The doctor may also check for diabetes after taking the blood sample.
- Angiography: Angiography is an imaging test that uses X-ray to view the blood vessels in many parts of the body such as the brain, heart, abdomen, and legs. This test is usually performed to look for blocked, narrow, or enlarged vessels that may be causing other health conditions like PAD. Other procedures under angiography include Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) and Computerized Tomography Angiography (CTA).
Untreated PAD can be dangerous to the health as it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke and can lead to painful symptoms over time. It’s preferred to have an early diagnosis and treatment to avoid any severe symptoms or a chronic disease from arising. The common treatment methods recommended by doctors include:
- Regular physical activity: This is considered to be the most effective method and mostly recommends supervised physical exercises which can help to cope with this condition. The patient usually starts off slowly with some walking and may level up to other exercises. This method can help in decreasing the symptoms just in a few weeks.
- Changes in diet: Most people with PAD have an elevated cholesterol level, due to which it is recommended to have a diet with low trans fat and cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables can be the best choice as they help to lower the blood cholesterol levels.
- Smoking: Smoking is more of a precaution as it increases the risk of having PAD by four times. Smokers who are suffering from PAD are required to quit smoking to progress with the treatment.
- Medications: The doctor may prescribe medication for proceeding with the treatment. The medication depends on many factors such as the type of symptoms, as the medicines can be prescribed to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, control cholesterol level, and reduce the pain.