PAD: The Under-Diagnosed Silent Killer
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is one of the most common diseases amongst adults in the U.S., affecting one out of every 20 individuals over the age of 50. However, the disease is very rarely “self-diagnosed” because the symptoms so often mimic those of other conditions. It’s not uncommon for patients to mistake early symptoms of PAD for arthritis, chronic pain, joint pain, and other conditions. Eventually, when enough symptoms develop, many people begin to live a more sedentary lifestyle, which allows the disease to continue its progression, elevating the patient’s risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Dr. Mansour Assar with Advanced Heart and Vascular Institute discusses this phenomenon in the short video below.
What Is Peripheral Arterial Disease?
PAD is a disease of the vascular system. It occurs when arteries in the legs, hips, and (less common) arms become hardened by atherosclerosis (plaque buildup). Peripheral arterial disease is specific to the body’s “periphery” vascular system, meaning the limbs. Many patients with PAD are at an increased risk for having plaque buildup in arteries around the heart (coronary artery disease), neck, (carotid artery disease), and elsewhere. This resource on how blood circulates through the legs may help you better understand PAD.
Who Is At Risk for Peripheral Arterial Disease?
Some risk factors for peripheral arterial disease are uncontrollable. These include age and your personal and family history of PAD, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. PAD risk factors that can be controlled include smoking, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, and lack of exercise. A few other things to know about your risk for PAD:
- Up until age 60, women are slightly more likely to develop PAD than men.
- After age 60, men are more likely to have PAD (though risk increases for both sexes).
- 21 percent of women over the age of 80 have PAD.
- 27 percent of men over the age of 80 have PAD.
- African Americans are at twice the risk for developing PAD than Caucasians.
Symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease
Common symptoms of PAD include numbness/weakness in the legs, non-healing wounds or sores on the toes and feet, burning, aching pain in the legs, and redness and discoloration of the skin. You can learn more about these symptoms here. Patients with non-healing ulcers should take a look at this resource page for more information about foot and leg ulcers, a common – and dangerous – symptom of peripheral arterial disease.
Diagnosing Peripheral Arterial Disease
There are several methods of screening for peripheral arterial disease. The most common method is the ankle-brachial index (ABI) test. Other tests include vascular ultrasound, lab blood testing, and angiography. Learn more about the PAD diagnostic tools available at Advanced Heart and Vascular Institute.
PAD Treatment Options
Though there is no cure for peripheral arterial disease, many patients can manage their symptoms and improve their underlying health conditions through diet, exercise, medication, and/or balloon angioplasty. You can learn more about these treatment options here. In addition to prescribing various treatment therapies, your cardiologist at Advanced Heart and Vascular Institute may discuss how a supervised exercise plan can help with PAD.
For more information, contact Advanced Heart and Vascular Institute in Phoenix, Globe, and Tempe, AZ by calling 602-507-6002.