Don’t ‘cover up’ the symptoms of peripheral artery disease
It’s time to uncover the sometimes hidden, sometimes ignored condition, peripheral artery disease or PAD. PAD occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs, arms and legs. That buildup of plaque narrows the arteries and restricts the flow of blood throughout the body. This decreased blood flow also means that less oxygen is delivered to vital organs and extremities.
When we breathe, we pull oxygen deep into our lungs. This oxygen enters the bloodstream and is sent on its way through the vast network of arteries that wind through the body. When blood flow is limited due to injury or disease, crucial oxygen cannot properly be circulated.
According to the American Heart Association, PAD affects more than 8.5 million American adults and many are unaware. That’s why it is so important for everyone to know the risks factors and symptoms of PAD.
Risk factors for PAD include:
- A history of smoking
- Advanced age
- High blood pressure
- Excess weight
- A family history of PAD
- High cholesterol
Possible symptoms of PAD may include:
- Leg or foot wounds that are slow to heal
- Leg pain or cramping, especially when walking, climbing stairs or exercising
- Skin problems, pale or blue color to skin on your legs or feet, poor nail growth
"Legs and feet can be especially affected by PAD," states Brian Akrami, DO, cardiologist at Bronson Cardiology Specialists in South Haven. "When blood flow is restricted or slowed because of PAD, healthy function in the legs and feet suffer."
Symptoms may not be readily apparent, or may only occur occasionally. "Those living with PAD may notice leg pain when they are walking or climbing. This pain occurs because the heart tries to pump an increased amount of blood to arms and legs during increased levels of physical activity," explained Akrami. "The pain usually subsides when the activity ends."
Because of the restricted blood flow caused by PAD, there is also an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke if the disease is left untreated.
The good news is that PAD is easily diagnosed and, in some instances, can be managed by changes in lifestyle or in combination with medicine.
Angioplasty, a non-surgical procedure, may be warranted in some cases. Doctors perform this procedure by inserting a thin tube, or catheter, into the narrowed artery. Once in place, a balloon on the tip of catheter is inflated to widen the narrowed passage.
The aim of any treatment for PAD will focus on the reduction of symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. You should discuss all possible risk factors for PAD with your primary care provider. This discussion can start by taking off your socks and having your feet examined during your next visit. Your doctor can look for signs of PAD and check the blood flow in your legs and feet.
Speak with your primary care provider about your risk for PAD.
Those diagnosed with PAD should:
- Stop smoking. The American Heart Association notes that smokers are 4 times more likely to get and have symptoms of PAD
- Work to control diabetes and high blood pressure
- Increase physical activity
- Watch the intake of saturated and trans fats
It is important for those living with PAD to check their feet and toes regularly for sores or signs of injury. Maintaining good foot hygiene and wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes are also crucial. If you have a wound or injury that doesn’t heal, you should seek treatment. Ask your primary care physician or contact one of the Bronson wound centers in Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Paw Paw or South Haven if you have a concern about a non-healing wound. They are specially trained to treat chronic, non-healing wounds. You do not need a referral from your primary care doctor to schedule an appointment at our Battle Creek and South Haven wound centers.
Brian Akrami, DO, is board certified in cardiovascular medicine and part of Bronson Cardiology Specialists in South Haven. He works closely with vascular surgeon Wade Kang, MD, along with the wound and hyperbaric medicine team in South Haven. Whether you have a common or complex condition, our team of highly-trained professionals work collaboratively to ensure all of your needs are met. Dr. Akrami can be reached at (269) 639-2777.