An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of atherosclerosis, the condition that causes narrowing of the arteries by cholesterol-rich material called plaque. PAD refers to atherosclerosis of arteries in the limbs (most often the legs). Because PAD interferes with circulation, in severe cases procedures may be required to improve blood flow. When PAD is very severe, it can increase the risk for gangrene and can result in a need for amputation. People with PAD are also at increased risk for complications in other arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
Risk Factors of PAD
The main risk factors of PAD include:
- Unhealthy cholesterol and lipid levels
- High blood pressure
- Advancing age
Many people with PAD do not have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, leg cramp pain (intermittent claudication) is the main symptom. At first, this symptom occurs with predictable amounts of exercise (walking a certain distance, up a hill or stairs), and disappears when at rest. When PAD becomes more severe, symptoms can include:
- Pain or tingling in the calf, feet, or toes, even at rest
- Weakened calf muscles
- Painful non-bleeding ulcers on the feet or toes that do not heal
Treatment for PAD includes lifestyle measures, medications that help reduce symptoms and prevent disease progression, and surgery. These include:
- Smoking cessation.
- Regular exercise, which is essential for patients with mild-to-moderate PAD.
- Heart-healthy diet, low in saturated fat and sodium, to reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure.
- Medications to help control high blood pressure and cholesterol. Other important drugs include antiplatelet medications to prevent blood clots.
- In severe cases, procedures may be needed to open blocked blood vessels.