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Do you blame “getting older” for your leg pain or difficulty walking? Do you just accept it and do the best you can? You could actually be suffering from a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD now affects more than 8.5 million American adults, according to the American Heart Association, and if left untreated, can increase your risk of losing a portion of your toes, feet and legs to amputation. The good news is that PAD can be managed when diagnosed early.
PAD is a vascular disease that mainly affects the arteries that carry blood to the legs and feet. It is primarily caused by the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, called atherosclerosis. This buildup reduces blood flow through the arteries and can lead to pain and lack of mobility. Those at the highest risk of PAD are over the age of 50, with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. PAD is also caused by eating high-fat foods, lack of exercise, smoking, stress or excess weight. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances are of developing PAD.
One of the classic symptoms of PAD is a dull, cramping pain in the legs, hips, or buttocks during exercise, such as walking. This pain stops at rest, which is why many people mistake the symptoms of PAD as a normal sign of aging. Other symptoms can include: weakness in legs, skin wounds or sores on your legs, feet, or toes that are slow to heal or foot or toe pain that often disturbs your sleep. While these are classic signs and symptoms, up to 40 percent of individuals with PAD have no leg pain, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, which is why routine check-ups with your doctor are important.
“The primary goal is to restore and preserve adequate blood flow to the extremities,” said Dr. Jihad Mustapha, director of cardiovascular research at Metro Health - University of Michigan Health. “When the pain is frequent and the ability to move is affected, this indicates that the disease is progressing. At that point, it may be necessary to treat significantly blocked arteries with a medical procedure, which range from less invasive catheter-based treatments to more invasive surgical options.”
Talk to your doctor to find out if you should be screened for PAD and what you can do to lower your risk. Some key questions to ask your doctor include:
• Does my medical history raise my risk for PAD?
• Which screening tests or exams are right for me?
• What is my blood pressure? Do I need to manage these numbers?
• What are my cholesterol numbers? Do I need to do anything about them?
To learn more about PAD and available treatment options, visit www.bostonscientific.com/PADMonth, a patient resource from Boston Scientific.
During PAD Awareness Month, talk to your health care provider to find out if you should be screened for PAD and what you can do to lower your risk.