Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) develops when leg arteries become clogged with plaque or fatty deposits that limit blood flow to them. Just like clogged arteries in the heart, clogged arteries in the legs raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The build-up of plaque causes the arteries to harden and narrow -- a condition called atherosclerosis -- and results in reduced blood flow to the legs and feet. If left unchecked, narrowing of the arteries can lead to accelerated health problems that greatly impact quality of life and may include the eventual loss of limb.
Over 12 million people in the United States have PAD. Unfortunately, up to 75 percent of them are unaware that they have the disease, and less than 700,000 are treated for it each year.
Risk factors for PAD:
- Age: people over 50 have a higher risk, especially among African Americans
- Diabetes: One in three people over age 50 with diabetes in likely to have PAD
- Smoking increases risk of developing APD three to five times
- High blood pressure or high blood cholesterol
- Personal or family history of vascular disease, heart attack, or stroke
The most common symptoms of PAD include:
- Leg pain that occurs when walking or exercising (Claudication)
- Leg muscle fatigue, leg cramping, coldness in lower legs and feet, or numbness
- Foot or toe pain at rest that often disturbs sleep
- Wounds on feet or toes that are slow to heal
- In serve cases, ulcers or sores that don't heal
Because the blockages build up over time and symptoms like pressure, fatigue, or pain while walking or exercising come on slowly, many patients adjust to their increasing limitations, attributing them to arthritis or old age.
Those who have the disease are up to seven times more likely to have coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, or transient ischemic attack or "mini stroke."
Patients who have symptoms of PAD should be evaluated immediately. The Ankle Brachial Index, a noninvasive test, can provide information about the peripheral health, and treatment or sessions in PAD rehab can help improve quality of life.
Learn more about advanced treatment options for Peripheral Arterial Disease. For more information about PAD, call Presence St. Mary's Hospital at 815.937.2137.