What is Peripheral Artery Disease?
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD – also known as Peripheral Vascular Disease or PVD) results from a progressive thickening of an artery’s lining caused by a buildup of plaque, which narrows or blocks blood flow, reducing the circulation of the blood to a specific organ or region of the body. This process, atherosclerotic occlusive vascular disease or atherosclerosis, is often called “hardening of the arteries.”
If the plaque surface becomes irregular or ulcerated, it may accumulate small blood clots and plaque contents. The particles (emboli) travel in the circulatory system, ultimately blocking flow through tiny blood vessels, which can also damage sensitive organs, such as the brain, by causing stroke.
Often, people with PAD may not experience symptoms until the disease is advanced. Almost all symptoms are due to the leg muscles not having enough blood. Typically, people with PAD experience a painful cramping in the hips, thighs or calves with walking, climbing stairs or exercising that is relieved with rest. Those with severe PAD might have the following symptoms:
- A cramping pain that does not go away when you stop exercising
- A noticeable decrease in the temperature of your lower leg or foot compared to the rest of your body
- Toe or foot wounds that will not heal or heal very slowly
- Dusky or pale in color
- Thin, shiny skin
- Absence of hair
If you have PAD, there are several treatment options:
- Prescription Medications: Drugs can be prescribed by your doctor to lower cholesterol levels, to reduce or control high blood pressure, to improve blood flow, and to control blood sugar in diabetes.
- Arterial Surgery: The traditional treatment for symptoms caused by peripheral vascular disease is to remove or bypass the arterial disease. These techniques are safe, effective, and durable. Bypass surgery used in arterial blockage in the abdomen or legs is the preferred method of treatment since the disease is more extensive. A synthetic graft is placed to carry normal blood flow around the diseased segment.
- Angioplasty & Stenting is a newer treatment procedure that is less invasive than surgery. It opens blockages by using small balloons introduced with a catheter into an artery. The balloon is then inflated (angioplasty). As it inflates, it stretches and opens the artery for improved blood flow. A metallic device called a “stent” can then be inserted to maintain the expanded artery, thereby improving blood flow to the leg.
- Clot Removal: When clots completely obstruct blood flow, a catheter can be used to deliver drugs to dissolve the clot, or remove the clot directly to restore blood flow and preserve the limb.
The best way to try to prevent PAD is to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle:
- If you are a smoker, quit smoking.
- Work to control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.
- Exercise regularly. You may want to talk with your doctor to determine what exercise program is right for you.
- Follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and eat more fruits and vegetables. If you are overweight or obese, work with your doctor to develop a reasonable weight-loss plan.