Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a common circulatory problem in which the arteries that supply blood to your limbs become narrowed or blocked. It most commonly affects the legs. Typical symptoms of PAD can include leg pain, cramping, numbness, skin ulcers, and even gangrene in severe cases.
This article will delve into PAD’s causes, effects on heart and brain health, diagnosis, and prevention. At Texas Vascular Institute, our vein specialists provide comprehensive and personalized care for PAD and other vascular conditions.
What Causes Peripheral Artery Disease?
The primary cause of PAD is atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when fatty deposits, or plaques, build up in your arterial walls, hardening and narrowing them. Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing PAD, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history of vascular diseases
PAD and Heart and Brain Health
PAD isn’t just a condition that affects the limbs. It’s a sign of widespread atherosclerosis, which can also impact the arteries supplying blood to your heart and brain. If these vital arteries become narrowed or blocked, the result could be a heart attack or stroke – leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. Some signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the arm or jaw
- Sudden weakness or numbness
- Slurred speech
Should you experience any of these signs, it is critical to seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Diagnosing Peripheral Artery Disease
Diagnosing PAD can be a challenge as it often goes unnoticed until a serious complication arises. However, various tests can aid in early detection, such as:
Physical examination: Looking for a lower pulse in your feet.
Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI): This is a simple test that compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm.
Doppler ultrasound: This test visualizes the blood flow in your major arteries and veins in your arms and legs.
Angiography: This involves injecting a dye into your blood vessels to make them visible under X-rays.
Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA): This non-invasive test utilizes a magnetic field and radio waves to provide detailed images of blood vessels.
Computed Tomography Angiography (CTA): This test uses X-rays and computer technology to get images of blood vessels.
Treating Peripheral Artery Disease
The primary goals of PAD treatment are symptom relief, blood flow improvement, and complication prevention. The treatment choice depends on the degree of your condition and can include lifestyle changes, medications, endovascular procedures, or surgery.
Quitting smoking, controlling diabetes, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, exercising regularly, and following a healthy diet can all contribute to managing PAD.
Medications such as antiplatelets (aspirin or clopidogrel), statins, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, cilostazol, or pentoxifylline can be prescribed to prevent clotting, lower cholesterol, and blood pressure, and improve blood flow, reducing leg pain.
These minimally invasive techniques open up the blocked arteries to restore blood flow. They include:
- Angioplasty: A balloon is inflated inside the artery to widen it.
- Stenting: A metal mesh tube is inserted inside the artery to keep it open.
- Atherectomy: Plaque is removed from the artery with a rotating blade or laser.
- Thrombolysis: Clot-dissolving drugs are injected into the artery.
Bypass Surgery and Amputation
In severe cases, bypass surgery may be performed to create a detour around the blocked artery, or amputation may be necessary if the limb is severely damaged or infected.
Endovascular procedures have several benefits over surgery, such as a higher success rate, lower complication rate, and shorter recovery time, and they are usually performed under local anesthesia and sedation.
Moreover, most insurance plans cover these procedures. Texas Vascular Institute has a skilled team of vein specialists who can perform these procedures for PAD and other vascular conditions.
Preventing Peripheral Artery Disease
While there’s no definitive way to prevent PAD, a number of lifestyle changes can minimize the risk of developing or worsening the condition. These include:
- Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
- Controlling diabetes and maintaining blood sugar within normal range
- Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Regular exercise and avoiding prolonged sitting or standing
- Consuming a well-balanced diet, low in saturated fat, salt, and sugar and high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Regularly checking legs and feet for signs of poor circulation or infection
Frequently Asked Questions and Myths about Peripheral Artery Disease
Here we address some common questions and misconceptions related to PAD and its treatment.
How common is PAD, and who is at risk?
PAD affects millions of people worldwide. Anyone can get PAD, but it’s more common in people over 50, smokers, people with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and those with a family history of vascular diseases.
How can I prevent PAD or slow down its progression?
Quitting smoking, managing underlying conditions like diabetes, cholesterol, and blood pressure, regular exercise, and a healthy diet can all contribute to preventing PAD or slowing its progression.
What are the potential complications or side effects of PAD treatment?
Like all treatments, PAD treatments also have some risks. However, modern endovascular treatments have a lower complication rate compared to traditional surgery. Your TVI specialist will discuss all potential risks before the treatment.
How long does it take to recover from PAD treatment?
Recovery time can vary depending on the type of treatment and individual patient conditions. However, endovascular treatments usually have shorter recovery times than surgeries.
Will I need to take medications for life after PAD treatment?
This depends on your condition and the type of treatment. Our vein specialist will provide a personalized treatment plan that may include long-term medications.
Myth #1: PAD only affects older people or people with other health problems.
While PAD is more common in these groups, it can affect anyone, irrespective of age and health condition.
Myth #2: PAD is not a serious condition and does not need treatment.
This is not true. PAD is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can lead to life-threatening complications.
Myth #3: PAD treatment is painful, risky, or expensive.
Modern PAD treatments are minimally invasive, have a lower complication rate, and are covered by most insurance plans.
Myth #4: PAD treatment will cure the condition permanently.
While PAD treatment can significantly improve symptoms and blood flow, it does not cure the condition permanently. It’s essential to manage risk factors and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
PAD is a common but serious condition that can lead to life-threatening complications.
If you have any concerns about PAD or other vascular conditions, don’t hesitate to contact Texas Vascular Institute. Our team of experienced vein specialists is here to help you. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please reach out to us at 972-798-4641.
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3500 Oak Lawn Ave, #760
Dallas, TX 75219
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809 West Harwood Rd, Suite 101,
Hurst, TX 76054
For Appointments: 972-798-4710
General Inquiries: 972-646-8346