Understanding the Effects of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a serious health condition that affects nearly eight million Americans. This illness occurs when the arteries in the legs narrow due to plaque buildup, which restricts blood flow. As the condition worsens, you may notice pain, swelling, and mobility issues.
Many risk factors are associated with PAD, but certain conditions increase your chances of developing the illness more than others. If you have a history of smoking or have been diagnosed with other health conditions, you may be at a greater risk of developing PAD in the future. These conditions include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
If you are unsure of whether you have PAD, especially if you have one or more of the risk factors, you should visit a vascular specialist for a diagnosis. PAD is a progressive disease that can get worse if left untreated.
The Progression of PAD
Many people can go years without realizing they have PAD if they don’t experience any symptoms. Although symptoms will differ from person to person, PAD stages may include leg tingling or pain when you’re walking or doing basic everyday tasks. Over time, you may notice cramping, cold skin, or restlessness in your legs. It’s possible you’ll feel an ache or tingling when laying in bed as well. As PAD progresses, you may develop ulcers on your legs, which look like open sores that do not heal.
Early Diagnosis and Intervention is Important for PAD Patients
Early diagnosis is critical when it comes to treating PAD. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatment and prevent the disease from worsening or leading to more serious health issues, such as stroke or amputation. If you notice pain when walking that goes away when you rest, don’t assume it’s just a sign of aging. Instead, have it checked out by a specialist who can conduct a physical exam to determine if PAD is a concern.
The vascular specialist may recommend a few tests to diagnose PAD. The ankle-brachial index (ABI) test, which compares the blood pressure in your legs with your arms, is most commonly used. Your doctor may also order an ultrasound to measure the blood flow in your arteries.
Many times, a doctor will order blood tests to check for high cholesterol and diabetes since they are risk factors for PAD. Once a diagnosis of PAD is made, a vascular doctor can provide treatment options to help you manage your illness.
The Four Stages of PAD
PAD is classified in four stages with the disease continuing to progress unless treatment is sought.
Stage 1. Asymptomatic: At this stage, you experience no symptoms and can go about your regular routines with relative ease.
Stage 2. Claudication: In this stage, the limited blood flow in your arteries causes pain in your legs when you’re being active but is alleviated with rest.
Stage 3. Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI): When PAD is left untreated and at an advanced stage, CLI can occur. At this point, your arteries have a major blockage. If you have experienced two or more weeks of pain while at rest and notice wounds or ulcers on your legs, it may indicate that you are in this third stage of PAD. You’ll want to seek medical treatment right away. This condition can put you at risk for a heart attack, stroke, or loss of a limb.
Stage 4. Acute Limb Ischemia (ALI): This fourth stage of PAD is associated with risk of heart attack and stroke. It occurs when a blood clot inside the leg ruptures and lodges in the artery to stop blood flow completely. You experience severe pain and may have heart issues, which can lead to amputation or even be fatal.
Treatment Options for PAD
When you talk to your doctor about treatment options, they will often work to manage any risk factors along with treating the disease itself. Your doctor may recommend that you stop smoking, manage or lose weight, become more active, and eat healthier to help you feel better. These lifestyle changes can support your vascular health. However, seeking treatment from a vascular doctor is the best way to find relief from your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Your doctor may recommend one of the following non-surgical treatments for PAD:
- Angioplasty: In this procedure, an intervention radiologist inserts a tiny catheter with a balloon attached to the end into the narrowed artery. The balloon is inflated to compress the plaque buildup against the artery walls to allow more room for blood to flow through.
- Stent placement: A wire mesh stent is inserted into the affected artery and holds it open. This procedure is often done with an angioplasty.
- Atherectomy: A catheter with a scraper on the end is inserted into the artery to scrape plaque off from the walls.
You don’t have to suffer from pain, limited mobility, or a reduced quality of life. Connect with a specialist to start taking the right steps toward healing.