High cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and weight gain can all play significant roles when it comes to heart disease and stroke. PAD — also called Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) — is another concerning condition to be aware of and avoid, because it’s often overlooked and undiagnosed.
PAD is a disease that takes place in blood vessels that don’t supply blood to the brain and heart. Normal blood flow in arm and leg arteries gets hindered or blocked on its way to the arms, brain, kidneys, stomach, legs, and feet as a result of gradual, fatty build-up (atherosclerosis) in the arteries’ inner walls anywhere in your body. This restricted blood flow can cause a blood clot, leading to a stroke or a heart attack. It can also impair kidney function to the point of kidney failure.
Another result can be high blood pressure that’s tough to control — even with lifestyle changes or medication. Left untreated, PAD can also lead to gangrene (tissue death) due to lack of blood flow and, eventually, amputation.
You may be at risk for PAD if you’re age 50-64 with a family history of either PAD or early heart disease; if you’re age 65 or older; if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol; if you have inflammation from a chronic disease like arthritis or lupus; or if you have an infection. Tobacco use, a high BMI (Body Mass Index) in the obese range, and lack of exercise also put you at risk.
See your doctor if you notice these potential signs of PAD listed (and note that PAD leg pain occurs in the muscles, not the joints). Look for:
- Cold feet
- Foot or leg wounds that are slow to heal
- Hair loss on the legs
- Poor toenail growth
- Skin issues or discoloration on feet or legs
- Unexplained hip, leg, or buttocks cramping, fatigue, heaviness, or pain during exercise or at rest
- Erectile dysfunction (especially in men with diabetes)
A simple test called an Ankle Brachial Index (ABI) can compare the blood pressure in your arms and legs, if PAD is suspected.
The good news is that most of the things that may put you at risk for PAD can be avoided through healthy lifestyle changes or medication, before more invasive surgical measures become necessary. Limit alcohol use. If you use tobacco products of any kind, quit. Get moving with five days of exercise, 30 minutes a day, each week. Eat healthier by incorporating lean proteins, low-fat dairy, or fortified soy, fresh veggies, fruits, and whole grains. You can help stop PAD in its tracks!
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano