Understanding Your Health

6 Little-Known Facts About Peripheral Artery Disease

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Your arteries are responsible for pumping blood throughout your body. But, if this process is interrupted in some way, it can set off a chain of possible health problems and complications.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a condition where arteries in the body (excluding those in the heart) become clogged or blocked. As a result, blood cannot properly flow to different parts of your body as it normally would.

Tiberio Frisoli, M.D., an interventional cardiologist with Henry Ford Health System, worries that the prevalence and serious health implications of this condition, and how much the public knows about it don’t match up.

“This condition is extremely common,” says Dr. Frisoli. “However, it is often underdiagnosed or not taken seriously enough even after a diagnosis.” In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, one in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has PAD.

Here’s what you need to know about PAD:

  1. Sometimes the symptoms aren’t easy to spot. “Most cases of PAD don’t have symptoms,” warns Dr. Frisoli. “That is why the condition is often missed and missing it can be dangerous.” When people do experience symptoms, they usually have the feeling of heaviness or burning in their limbs while they move or exercise. The sensation, called claudication, usually stops once you stop moving. This feeling occurs because blockages prevent your blood vessels from widening so more blood can flow to your arms and legs when you exercise.“Sometimes patients don’t experience symptoms because they aren’t very active,” adds Dr. Frisoli.

    In more extreme cases, other symptoms may occur such as:

Tingling, heaviness or pain in the legs or feet when laying down, that can disturb sleep
Skin changes of the feet such as scaliness, paleness or cool skin temperature
Gangrene
Poor hair growth
Wounds that have issues healing
Loss of or weakened pulse

  1. There are big risks if left untreated or undiagnosed. Since PAD is caused by blockages of arteries around the body, your likelihood of having blockages that can cause other serious health complication increases. For example, blockages near the stomach, brain or heart can lead to severe medical conditions such as aneurysms, stroke or cardiovascular complications. “If left untreated or undiagnosed, the 5-year mortality rate of people with PAD is higher than that of people with common cancers such as breast cancer or prostate cancer,” says Dr. Frisoli.
  1. It increases your risk of heart conditions. Because of the increased risk of blockages, your chances of cardiovascular complications are 3 times higher than average. If you have PAD, talk to your doctor to determine your risk for heart attacks or heart failure. Your treatment might vary depending on those factors.
  1. There is a test for it. The test often used to help diagnose PAD is an Ankle Brachial Index (ABI). An ABI uses ultrasound to analyze the blood flow of arteries in your groin, arms and legs. If there is an issue with the blood flow in your body, then your doctor may consider PAD as a possibility. This test is simple and can be done at your doctor’s office
  1. It is treatable – in many ways. The severity of your case will determine the type of treatment best for you. “The first and most important treatment is lifestyle modification – increased exercise such as walking has been proven to improve the symptoms of peripheral artery disease” says Dr. Frisoli. “Diabetes increase your chances of PAD, so it is important to get that under control.”

    Because PAD increase your chances of heart conditions, statins and aspirin are recommended to prevent possible health issues such as a heart attack.

    In more serious cases, open or minimally-invasive operations can bypass or open blockages. Surgeries like these, though, are typically only used in cases where PAD symptoms are lifestyle limiting – if someone has gangrene, sores that won’t heal, or high levels of discomfort. While these operations are effective, they can be high-risk. Minimally-invasive peripheral interventions, such as balloon angioplasty and stenting, can have lower complication rates and recovery time. Talk with your doctor to see what is best for your situation.

  1. There are things you can do to prevent it. Don’t sit around thinking about your likelihood of this diagnosis – do something about it! Dr. Frisoli says the easiest ways to prevent PAD are to live a heart healthy life and make some lifestyle changes. “Take control of your life – eat a heart healthy diet, stay active, get control over diabetes, quit smoking, manage blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels,” say Dr. Frisoli.

Who’s at risk for PAD?

Like with many medical conditions, some people are at a higher risk than others – based on their lifestyle, age, gender, race and other factors. Cases of PAD are more likely in:

  • People who smoke (smoking causes a 4-times greater risk of PAD)
  • Diabetics
  • African Americans
  • Men (age 40-50)
  • People with claudication

By age 70, the risk for PAD is equal for men and women, so that is a good time to get a screening if you haven’t had one before that point. Additionally, if you have heart issues or have had heart issues in the past, talk to your doctor about scheduling a screening.

To find a doctor or make an appointment, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Tiberio Frisoli is an interventional cardiologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford Health Center – Brownstown.