Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a common circulatory problem that’s often mistakenly shrugged off as a normal aging pain. Actually, though, it’s a form of atherosclerosis and a red flag for future heart and cardiovascular problems.
“When someone has PAD, the arteries in the legs become narrow due to cholesterol blockages,” explains Dharam Kumbhani, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at UT Southwestern. “As a result, circulation slows down, which leads to pain and weakness in the legs, along with an increased risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.”
According to Dr. Kumbhani, PAD can be caused by a variety of factors:
- Age: PAD usually strikes patients after age 50.
- Tobacco use: Smoking and chewing tobacco are the biggest contributors to PAD.
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol: These conditions increase your risk.
- Diabetes: Affects circulation and plaque buildup in the arteries.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of exercise heightens your chances of PAD.
“Typical symptoms include a heavy feeling in the legs and cramping in the calves during exercise,” Dr. Kumbhani notes.
If left untreated, PAD can cause many serious problems, including leg pain that does not go away when you stop exercising; foot or toe wounds that heal very slowly or not at all; gangrene; critical limb ischemia, a rare but severe symptom involving total loss of circulation of the leg and typically resulting in amputation; and future heart and cardiovascular problems.
Screening for PAD is simple and takes 10 minutes or less. For those who have it, Dr. Kumbhani recommends regular exercise, adequate risk factor control, and statin medications.
For more information on PAD and leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, visit the One Heart blog.