Could you have peripheral arterial disease?

September 29, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is narrowing of the arteries that serve the legs, arms, stomach and head, and is most commonly caused by atherosclerosis, or a buildup of plaque inside the veins.

According to the American Heart Association, PAD affects 8.5 million Americans.

The most common symptom of PAD is pain in the leg that comes on with exercise but goes away when at rest. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that roughly 4 in 10 Americans with PAD have no leg pain.

Other symptoms of PAD include:

  • Coldness in your leg or a difference in temperature in your legs compared to other parts of your body
  • Sores on your leg, toes or feet that don’t heal
  • Hair loss on your legs or slowing growth of hair on your legs
  • Shiny skin on your legs
  • Low pulse in your feet
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

Risk factors for PAD increase with age. Those over the age of 60 are at a higher risk for developing the disease. High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity also increase the risk for PAD.

People with PAD also are at higher risk for heart attack, coronary artery disease and stroke. If left untreated, PAD can lead to gangrene and amputation.

You can help lower your risk for PAD by exercising, following a healthy diet and properly managing other health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. If you smoke, quitting also helps lower your risk.

PAD can be diagnosed by a simple test called an ankle brachial index, or ABI. The test measures the blood pressure in your foot and compares it to the blood pressure in your arm. Typically, the blood pressure in your foot is about 90 percent of the blood pressure in your arm. However, severe narrowing of the peripheral arteries can lead to a blood pressure reading in your foot that could be less than 50 percent of the blood pressure reading from your arm.

Other tests that can aid in diagnosing PAD include ultrasound, CT scan, magnetic resonance angiography or peripheral angiogram.

Once diagnosed, PAD can often be treated through lifestyle changes and medication. In some cases, you may need surgery to bypass blocked arteries.

Edward-Elmhurst Health is one of the top 10 health systems for cardiovascular care in Illinois. Find out why.

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