Peripheral artery disease affects the arteries outside of your heart and brain. Most commonly, PAD affects arteries that send oxygenated blood to your legs, but it can also affect arteries that travel to your head, arms, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract.
PAD develops when plaque, which is a fatty substance, builds up on your arterial walls. When enough plaque builds up, your arteries become stiff and narrow, making it difficult for blood to travel through them.
This stiffness and narrowing of your arteries is called atherosclerosis, which can lead to other problems. Among them are coronary artery disease, where the arteries that lead to your heart become damaged, and carotid artery disease, which affects the arteries that supply blood to your brain.
Unfortunately, symptoms of PAD don’t often develop until there is severe blockage of your arteries. In fact, 50% of people with PAD don’t have any symptoms. The most common symptom is leg pain, also called claudication, when walking. Other symptoms include:
- Leg numbness or weakness
- Ulcers on your toes or feet
- Swollen or red legs
- Cold limbs
- A change of color in your legs
- Chest pain or shortness of breath with leg pain
PAD risk factors
Fortunately, you can reduce your symptoms, or even prevent PAD from developing, by managing several lifestyle factors. If not controlled, these factors can raise your risk of developing PAD.
There are also some risk factors that you can’t change or manage, such as your age or race. For example, African Americans are the racial or ethnic segment most affected by PAD in the US. Risk factors for PAD include:
Your risk for PAD increases as you get older. Rates of PAD in the general population are 10-15%, and 15-20% in people older than 70.
Smoking raises your risk for a whole host of health issues, including certain cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. People who smoke are 2-6 times more likely to develop PAD than those who don’t smoke. Additionally, smoking worsens the symptoms of PAD.
High blood pressure
Untreated high blood pressure, also called hypertension, can put a strain on the arteries in your arms and legs. This strain can lead to narrowing of your blood vessels.
It’s important for many reasons to control your blood sugar when you have diabetes. One of them is that uncontrolled blood pressure can, over time, damage the walls of your arteries, making it easier for plaque to build up.
Cholesterol is a type of naturally wax-like fat. Cholesterol in moderation is integral to the process of many bodily functions. But, if consumed in excess, it can build upon your artery walls, and lead to narrowing and hardening of your arteries.
PAD treatment options
The first step in treating PAD is to make healthy lifestyle modifications. These lifestyle changes include quitting smoking, exercising more regularly, and eating a healthy diet to treat underlying conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure that may be contributing to your PAD. If these lifestyle changes do not relieve your symptoms, our cardiovascular specialists can perform diagnostic studies and may prescribe medications or recommend:
- Angioplasty and stenting
- Laser atherectomy
- Bypass surgery
If you’re experiencing leg pain or want to find out more about PAD, call Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists for an appointment at one of our three Northern California locations, in Mountain View, Watsonville, or Monterey. You can also request a consultation using the online booking tool.