September is PAD Awareness month. PAD, or peripheral arterial disease, is a form of vascular disease which affects the arteries outside the heart. Its symptoms – if there are any at all – vary widely and are similar to the symptoms for many other conditions, making PAD a stealthy disease. Here, we learn more from Patricia Furey, MD, FACS, vascular surgeon at the New England Heart & Vascular Institute at CMC.
Q: What happens when someone develops PAD?
A: PAD is similar to coronary artery disease. Plaque builds up in an artery which diminishes blood flow over time. Eventually, that diminished blood flow can cause organ damage or failure. PAD can involve many organs throughout the body, depending on which artery or arteries are involved. The most common types of PAD include abdominal aortic aneurysm, carotid artery disease, and vascular disease in the lower extremities.
Q: What makes PAD challenging to detect?
A: In many aspects, this can be a silent disease. Visual problems, high blood pressure, and trouble walking may be symptoms of PAD. Poor wound healing, toe discoloration, cool skin or sores on the legs can also be signs of PAD. Symptoms need to be considered in light of risk factors such as increasing age, smoking history and high cholesterol in order to determine whether testing is needed.
Q: What are some other risk factors?
A: Smoking is a significant risk factor. Diabetes, kidney failure, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are all important risk factors as well. There are screening tests for PAD which include carotid artery screening to detect patients at risk for stroke and aneurysm screening in selected patients.
Q: What can be done to treat PAD?
A: Interventions depend on symptoms. If someone’s main complaint is leg pain, we can treat that with supervised exercise programs and medication to improve walking. Lifestyle, diet, and certain medications can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. More severe symptoms may require interventions including angioplasty, stenting and possibly surgery.
Q: So what should someone do if they’re concerned about PAD?
A: First and foremost, a patient should talk with their primary care provider, especially if they think they might be at risk for PAD. We at CMC and at New England Heart and Vascular want our patients to understand is that we are here to be their resource and provide information. Our expertise lies in our ability to not only treat their condition but also answer all of their questions.
The best thing to do when you go to your physician is to be prepared. Have a basic knowledge about PAD risk factors and pay particular attention to certain symptoms, especially leg pain or trouble walking. As with many health conditions, the best way to avoid developing PAD is to lower your risk by eating well, maintaining a healthy weight and exercise routine, and not smoking.