Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of cardiovascular disease that affects the blood vessels in your extremities, most often the legs. It’s a common condition, affecting 8-12 million Americans each year.
PAD develops when your limbs don’t get enough blood flow, resulting in pain, cramping, numbness, weakness, sores, coldness, and other symptoms in your arms and legs. You may also experience changes to your skin and slow growth of your fingernails and toenails.
The most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, a circulatory disease in which fatty deposits of plaque layer the inside walls of your blood vessels, narrowing them and making it more difficult for your heart to pump blood throughout your body.
Don’t get PAD confused with CAD, which stands for coronary artery disease. While similar, the two conditions differ in locale: CAD affects your coronary arteries, or the blood vessels that supply blood and nutrients to your heart.
Who is at risk for peripheral artery disease?
Smoking and diabetes are the two most prominent risk factors for PAD. If you have either and experience symptoms of PAD, you should discuss the possibility of PAD with our board-certified cardiologist at Vein, Heart, and Vascular Institute, Dr. Hesham Fakhri, right away.
Other risk factors for developing PAD include:
- Obesity (body mass index greater than 30)
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Aging (PAD becomes more of a concern after age 50)
- Family history of PAD or other cardiovascular diseases
If Dr. Fakhri determines that you may be at risk for PAD, he performs a physical exam to check for a weak pulse in your legs. First, he does an ankle-brachial index (ABI), which measures the ratio of the pulse pressure in your arm to the pressure in your ankle. If the ABI comes back abnormal, Dr. Fakhri may order additional tests, including an ultrasound, CT scan, or angiogram.
How to treat and prevent peripheral artery disease
If you do receive a PAD diagnosis, Dr. Fakhri puts together a treatment plan to help you manage your condition. Treatment for PAD usually includes lifestyle changes, such as:
- Quit smoking and using other nicotine/tobacco products
- Control your blood sugar carefully, if you have diabetes
- Adopt healthier eating habits
- Engage in low-impact, low-intensity exercise often
- Lower high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, if applicable
- Lose excess body weight
In more severe cases, Dr. Fakhri may prescribe medications to lower your cholesterol, blood sugar, or blood pressure, depending on your particular case. You might also need medications to prevent blood clots and relieve any PAD symptoms you’re experiencing, such as leg cramping.
If you don’t have PAD but Dr. Fakhri determines that you’re at risk for PAD, he may still prescribe many of the same changes. The following lifestyle factors are key to preventing PAD:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check
- Sticking to a consistent exercise regimen
- Abstaining from tobacco and nicotine use
- Avoiding certain medications that may constrict your blood vessels
PAD is a scary disease, but you don’t have to go through it alone: Dr. Fakhri and our team help you navigate the waters and, depending on your case, treat the condition or prevent you from developing it in the first place.
To learn more about PAD or schedule an appointment, call us at Vein, Heart, and Vascular Institute at one of our convenient Florida locations or request an appointment online.