Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) happens when buildup on the walls of blood
vessels causes them to narrow. It commonly affects people with type 2 diabetes,
who are also prone to high cholesterol and heart disease. According to the American
Diabetes Association, about 1 in 3 people with diabetes over the age of 50
have PAD. Doctors most often diagnose PAD when it’s causing leg or foot
Since buildup and narrowing of the arteries occur in all arteries in the
body, people with PAD are at high risk of heart attack and stroke. If you
suspect you have PAD, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They can help you
take steps to treat your symptoms and protect your heart and blood vessels.
Symptoms of PAD
PAD affects millions of Americans, reports the National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. However, people often don’t notice it.
Many doctors and patients overlook subtle signs of the condition.
Possible signs of PAD include:
- a pain in your calves when you’re walking or exercising
that goes away with rest, which is called “claudication”
- numbness, tingling, or a feeling of pins and needles in
your lower legs or feet
- cuts or sores on your legs or feet that don’t heal or
Sometimes, the symptoms of PAD are so subtle that you may not suspect you
have a problem. In some cases, you may dismiss mild leg pain from PAD as a sign
of aging and nothing more. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to your
body and take potential symptoms of PAD seriously. Early treatment is essential
to protecting your vascular system.
Causes of PAD
If you have PAD, plaque builds up on your blood vessel walls and restricts
the flow of blood and oxygen to your legs and feet. Depending on its severity, this
can cause pain in your lower legs when you’re walking. It can also cause
numbness, tingling, and coldness while you’re at rest.
Risk factors for PAD
Diabetes greatly increases your risk of PAD. You may also be at higher risk of
PAD if you:
- have a family history of heart disease
- have high blood pressure
- have high cholesterol
- have had a previous heart attack or stroke
- are overweight or obese
- are physically inactive
- are a smoker
- are over the age of 50
Talk to your doctor about
your risk factors. If you’re at high risk of developing PAD, they may check you
for signs of PAD. They may also recommend lifestyle changes or other measures
to lower your risk of PAD.
Your doctor can use the ankle-brachial index to diagnose PAD, which compares
the blood pressure in your arm to the blood pressure in your ankle. If the
blood pressure in your ankle is lower than the pressure in your arm, you may
have PAD. If your doctor can’t make a clear diagnosis of PAD by taking your
blood pressure alone, they may recommend other diagnostic measures. For
example, they may order magnetic resonance angiography or a Doppler ultrasound.
In most cases, you can manage PAD through a combination of medication and
lifestyle changes. This can reduce your symptoms and lower your chances of
having a heart attack or stroke.
For example, your doctor may advise you to do the following.
- Quit smoking if you smoke.
- Eat a well-balanced diet to help manage your
blood glucose levels and weight.
- Lower the cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium
in your diet to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Follow a moderate and supervised exercise
program, in which you rest when you feel pain in your legs. Most doctors
recommend walking three times per week for roughly 30 minutes per day.
- Monitor your blood pressure and take medication
for it as prescribed.
- Take any other medications, such as those for
diabetes or cholesterol, as prescribed.
- Take antiplatelet drugs or aspirin to thin your
blood. This can help your blood flow through narrow or restricted arteries.
In serious cases of PAD, your doctor may recommend surgery. Your surgeon can
use balloon angioplasty or arterial bypass to help open or reroute restricted
Outlook for people with PAD
If you have PAD, your chances of having a heart attack or stroke are
increased. According to research reported in the Journal of the
American Medical Association, PAD is “a powerful predictor of [heart
attack], stroke, and death due to vascular causes.” That’s why it’s so
important to diagnose and treat PAD early. Following your doctor’s prescribed
treatment plan can help you lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
If you’re at risk of PAD and you smoke, you should stop smoking immediately.
Smoking narrows the blood vessels in your heart over time. This can make it
more difficult for your heart to pump blood throughout your body, especially to
your lower limbs.
It’s also important to:
- eat a well-balanced diet
- get regular exercise
- maintain a healthy weight
- take steps to monitor and manage your blood
glucose levels, blood cholesterol levels, and blood pressure
- follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment plan
for diabetes or other diagnosed health conditions