Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a serious condition, but you may not know if you have it. Nearly half of those who have PAD have no signs or symptoms.
PAD happens when blood flow in the legs and feet is restricted by the buildup of fatty deposits in the legs’ blood vessels.
Why get treatment for a condition when signs or symptoms may not be noticeable? Untreated, PAD can lead to pain, cramping and discomfort that can make walking – and life in general – miserable, said Mehdi H. Shishehbor, DO, MPH, PhD. Dr. Shishehbor is director of the Interventional Cardiovascular Center and co-director of the Vascular Center at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.
“In extreme cases, PAD can result in the tissue loss and gangrene, which can ultimately lead to amputation,” Dr. Shishehbor said.
People who have PAD also have a higher risk for heart attack and stroke, he said.
The good news is that early diagnosis and treatment can help you to manage – or even reverse – PAD. So it’s important to understand if you might be at risk and to know the symptoms of PAD.
PAD Risk Factors
Factors that increase your chances of developing PAD include:
- History of diabetes or heart problems among close relatives such as your parents, sister or brother
- If you’ve had diabetes or heart problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, mini-stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- If you have difficulty controlling your blood pressure on more than three blood pressure medications
- If you have had surgery, balloon procedures or stents in your heart, kidneys, stomach, legs or arms
- If your doctor has told you that you have poor circulation
- If you are inactive
- If you smoke or have ever smoked
Symptoms of PAD
Dr. Shishehbor said you should tell your doctor if you experience these signs:
- You have ulcers or sores on your feet or legs that are slow to heal
- When you walk or exercise, you feel aching, cramping or pain in your legs that goes away when you rest
- Your toes or feet hurt at night
Even if you don't have symptoms of PAD, you may need to be screened, Dr. Shishehbor said.
“If you are older than 65; older than age 50 and have diabetes or smoke; or if you have diabetes and other PAD risk factors such as being overweight, ask your doctor about screening for PAD,” Dr. Shishehbor said.
How You Can Avoid PAD
Prevention is the key to reducing your risk of developing PAD, Dr. Shishehbor said.
You can help prevent PAD through good health habits such as not smoking, eating a balanced, low-salt and low-fat diet, controlling your blood pressure and sugar and cholesterol levels.
Maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise also helps.