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Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a common yet serious disease, affecting 8 to 12 million people in the United States, particularly those over age 50. PAD occurs when plaque buildup reduces blood flow through the arteries. It often happens in the legs and feet, but can also occur elsewhere in the body. If this buildup occurs in the carotid artery (a large artery in the neck), it can be a major contributor to stroke.
Peripheral arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to the tissues outside the heart. As you age, your arteries become stiffer and thicker. In addition, risk factors, such as smoking and high cholesterol, can damage the artery lining. This allows plaque (a buildup of fat and other materials) to form within the artery walls. The buildup of plaque narrows the space inside the artery and sometimes blocks blood flow.
Risk factors that increase your chances of developing the disease include:
PAD does not always cause symptoms. Common symptoms of chronic PAD include:
Common symptoms of acute PAD include leg pain that does not go away when you stop exercising, foot or toe wounds that won’t heal or heal very slowly, gangrene and a marked decrease in the temperature.
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend that patients over the age of 70, or those over the age of 50 with diabetes or who smoke, are at an increased risk and should be screened for PAD. It is easily diagnosed in non-invasive and painless ways:
If PAD is detected early, you can help manage your disease through lifestyle changes such as:
Your physician may also recommend medication, such as:
In more severe cases, you may also require surgical treatments. The choice of treatment depends on the extent of blockages as well as other factors. Your vascular surgeon will help you determine the best option for your particular situation. Some surgical treatments you may explore include:
In extreme cases and as a last resort, your surgeon may recommend amputating your lower leg or foot. This procedure would only be performed when circulation is severely reduced and cannot be improved by any of the methods already discussed.
Additionally, lifestyle changes may help you manage your PAD, including:
At St. Joseph's Heart & Vascular Institute, we offer a number of preventative health programs and tools for our patients.