Peripheral Artery Disease
If you have pain, cramping, numbness or discoloration of your legs and feet, don't assume it's just a sign of aging, you could be experiencing symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD. PAD is a common circulatory disease that occurs when arteries become narrow or blocked, reducing blood supply to the legs.
At the Palm Beach Health Network, patients have access to physicians who are experienced at treating PAD, and not only traditional treatments options, but also the most advanced, innovative procedures for treating PAD.
What is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?
PAD is a common but serious condition in which narrowed arteries reduce or block blood flow to the arms or legs, typically in the legs. This lack of blood flow causes leg pain when walking and other symptoms. PAD is usually caused by a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which narrows the arteries and reducing and / or blocking blood flow.
What Are The Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease?
While common, PAD is still often an under-diagnosed condition that can cause a variety of symptoms, commonly in the legs and feet, including but not limited to:
- Pain that occurs when walking or exercising but disappears when you stop the activity
- Leg muscle fatigue
- Leg cramping
- Coldness or numbness in the lower legs and feet, especially compared with the other side
- Foot or toe pain at rest that often disturbs sleep
- Wounds on the feet or toes that are slow to heal
- No pulse or a weak pule in the legs or feet
- Skin color changes in the leg
If you have any of those symptoms, it is time to get evaluated for PAD. It is especially important if you are also a smoker, have diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, a personal history of heart disease or stroke, or you are over age 60.
How is Peripheral Artery Disease Diagnosed?
To diagnose peripheral artery disease, a health care provider will need examine you and likely ask questions about your symptoms and medical history.
If you have peripheral artery disease (PAD), the pulse in the affected area may be weak or missing. The following are tests that your physicians may want to perform to determine if you have PAD:
- Blood tests: Blood tests are done to check for conditions related to PAD such as high cholesterol, high triglycerides and diabetes.
- Ankle-brachial index (ABI): This is a common test used to diagnose PAD, ABI test compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm. You likely be asked to walk on a treadmill and blood pressure readings are usually taken before and immediately following exercising to check the arteries during the exercise.
- Ultrasound of the legs or feet: Ultrasound tests use sound waves to see how blood moves through the blood vessels and a doppler ultrasound is a unique type of ultrasound used to spot blocked or narrowed arteries.
- Angiography: This test uses X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans or computerized tomography (CT) scans to look for blockages in the arteries. Before the images are taken, dye (contrast) is injected into a blood vessel, this dye allows the arteries show up more clearly on test images.
Common Treatments for Peripheral Vascular Disease
The goals of treatment for peripheral artery disease are:
Manage symptoms, such as leg pain, so exercise isn't uncomfortable
Improve artery health to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke
Treatments for peripheral artery disease includes lifestyle changes and sometimes, medication.
Lifestyle changes can help improve symptoms, especially early in the course of peripheral artery disease. If you smoke, quitting is the single most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of complications. Walking or doing other exercise on a regular, scheduled basis (supervised exercise training) can improve symptoms dramatically.
If peripheral artery disease (PAD) is causing symptoms, your provider may prescribe medicine. Medications for PAD may include:
- Cholesterol drugs
- Blood pressure drugs
- Medications to control blood sugar
- Medications to prevent blood clots
- Medications for leg pain
Surgeries or Other Procedures
In some cases, an angioplasty procedure or surgery may be recommended by your physician to treat peripheral artery disease that's causing claudication:
- Angioplasty and stent placement: This procedure is done to open clogged arteries. It can also diagnose and treat a blocked vessel at the same time. A health care provider will guide a thin, flexible tube (catheter) to the narrowed part of the artery, then a small balloon is inflated to widen the blocked artery and improve blood flow. A small wire mesh tube (stent) may also be placed in the artery to keep the artery open.
- Bypass surgery: During bypass surgery, a surgeon will create a path around the blocked artery using either a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body or a synthetic one.
- Thrombolytic therapy: If a blood clot is blocking an artery, a clot-dissolving drug may be given directly into the affected artery.
Getting the Experienced, Compassionate Care You Need
Once you have a diagnosis, your team of highly specialized physicians in the Palm Beach Health Network will develop a personalized treatment plan just for you. This may include anything from simple lifestyle changes and medication to a variety of possible procedures, such as angioplasty, atherectomy, and/or a stent, aimed at improving the blood flow to your legs and feet. The Palm Beach Health Network will be with you every step of the way.