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Understanding PAD

By September 16, 2019 No Comments

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Understanding PAD

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) affects as many as 12 million Americans. Read up on the symptoms and learn what you can do to reduce your risk.

Many people know that the buildup of fatty tissue called plaque is the cause of coronary heart disease. However, pesky plaque can also build up in other vessels outside the heart. This condition is called PAD.

PAD usually affects the legs, but can also affect the vessels that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys and stomach. The plaque that builds up in these arteries can become thick enough to reduce blood flow and cause a blood clot that could narrow or completely block the artery.

One of the greatest risk factors for PAD is age—one in three Americans age 70 or older has PAD. If you are older than age 50 and smoke or have diabetes, you are also at a greater risk for PAD. If you’re 50 or younger, be on the lookout for PAD symptoms if you have:

  • Poor cholesterol. Your low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (or “bad” and “good” cholesterol) affect your risk.
  • High blood pressure. Also called hypertension, blood pressure at or above 140/90 increases your chances of PAD.
  • Smoking. The chemicals in cigarettes damage your blood vessels and restrict the flow of oxygen.
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes. Either of these conditions can impact your cardiovascular health.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity. Staying sedentary fuels your chances of developing PAD.

Many people who have PAD have no ill effects from the disease, but others may experience pain, numbness, aching or heaviness in the leg muscles when walking or climbing stairs. Weak or absent pulses in the leg, pale or blue skin color, and poor nail growth are also symptoms of PAD. Many problems associated with PAD flare up during physical activity, then go away after a period of rest.

Lifestyle changes are one of the best ways to prevent PAD and other cardiovascular problems. Increased exercise, smoking cessation and blood sugar management can go a long way toward reducing plaque buildup in your peripheral arteries and your heart.

If you develop PAD, your physician may prescribe medication to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent blood clots, or ease pain. Several surgical procedures also can treat the root cause of PAD, depending on the severity of plaque buildup.

Research indicates that women are just as likely to get PAD as men—but women are often uneducated about what PAD is and less likely to be screened by their healthcare provider for the condition. Women also typically have more severe cases of PAD and are more likely to have their quality of life affected by this disease.

Despite this seemingly bad news for women, a new study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that surgical interventions for PAD are just as effective in women. Talk with your physician about your overall risk for cardiovascular diseases, including PAD.

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