West Boca Medical Center: Detecting, Treating Peripheral Artery Disease

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By: West Boca Medical Center Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

Walking is wonderful exercise. You can go for a walk just about anywhere. It costs nothing and requires no special equipment. But if you feel leg pain that starts when you walk and is relieved by rest, then you could have peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD occurs when arteries become narrow or blocked, reducing blood supply in the legs.

PAD is caused by a buildup of plaque in the walls of arteries called atherosclerosis. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, blood platelets, fat, fibrous tissue and calcium. PAD typically occurs in the legs, but it also may affect arteries that carry blood from the heart to the kidneys, head, arms or stomach. Risk factors include age, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome and obesity. People with PAD have a higher risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke) compared to people who do not have PAD.

Millions of Americans are affected by PAD. Some people may experience leg pain called intermittent claudication, where cramping may occur in the buttocks, thighs, calves and feet. Some signs of the disease are:

Sores on legs or feet that heal slowly or not at all, pale or bluish skin color, lower temperature in one leg compared to the other, slow toenail growth or decreased hair growth on legs, weak or nonexistence pulse in legs or feet or erectile dysfunction.

PAD may be diagnosed following a complete medical history, physical exam and diagnostic tests. One of the most commonly used tests is the ankle-brachial index, which compares blood pressure in the ankle to blood pressure in the arm. A Doppler ultrasound also could be done to determine if a blood vessel is blocked, or a magnetic resonance angiography test may be performed to show the location and severity of a blocked blood vessel.

Treatment for PAD is based on severity of the disease, risk factors and test results. Lifestyle changes that can help control PAD include not smoking, eating a healthy diet, lowering blood pressure, controlling cholesterol and exercising regularly. Medications to treat underlying conditions may be prescribed to help prevent the formation of blood clots. Surgery could be recommended to open blocked arteries either through angioplasty, which involves inflating a tiny balloon to flatten plaque against the artery wall, or bypass, which allows blood to flow around the blocked artery. In extreme cases, the affected limb may need to be amputated if circulation cannot be improved by other methods.

PAD is a serious disease, but it can be stopped or slowed through treatment. Walking at least half an hour per day can help improve symptoms.

For more information, or to attend one of our lectures and learn more about PAD and other vascular diseases, register online at www.westbocamedctr.com/contact-us/classes-events or call 866-904-9262.