If you’ve been diagnosed with PAD, (stands for peripheral artery disease), you’ve likely done some research. So you may already know that PAD isn’t immediately life-threatening. But a condition called atherosclerosis that causes it can lead to serious, potentially fatal problems. Left untreated, PAD can increase your risk for complications like amputation, heart attack and stroke, conditions that certainly are life-threatening.
Knowledge is Power if you have PAD
So, if you have been diagnosed with PAD, let’s talk.
PAD is a very common medical condition in which a build-up of plaque due to atherosclerosis makes it difficult for blood to circulate through the arteries. PAD primarily affects the legs, but can also damage arteries in the kidneys, abdomen, feet, ankles, pelvis, hips, buttocks and arms.
As mentioned, PAD is caused by atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque (fatty deposits and cholesterol) on the walls of the arteries. Over time, the arteries can become so narrow that it is difficult for blood to flow through to bring oxygen to the muscles, tissue and organs. Clots can form when plaque breaks off and enters the bloodstream.
The biggest risk factor for developing PAD is a diagnosis of diabetes, especially in people over the age of 50. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of heart disease, smoking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
Complications of PAD
If you are the one out of 20 Americans over the age of 50 who have PAD, you now know your PAD puts you at greater risk of amputation, heart attack and stroke.
Over half of all amputations are due to vascular conditions, including PAD, and diabetes. Untreated PAD can impair blood flow to your limbs, which can cause gangrene, non-healing foot ulcers and infected ulcers. Each of these conditions could result in the need for an amputation.
The most common cause of a heart attack is the sudden narrowing or blockage of a coronary artery, which blocks oxygen from getting to the heart. This can happen when plaque in the coronary artery breaks and a blood clot forms in the artery. Over time, plaque may narrow the artery and as a result, the artery hardens (atherosclerosis). This condition is called coronary artery disease.
There are two different types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke is similar to a heart attack, except it occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. Clots can form in the brain’s blood vessels, in blood vessels leading to the brain, or even in blood vessels elsewhere in the body and then travel to the brain. These clots block blood flow to the brain’s cells. About 80% of all strokes are ischemic.
- Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures. The result is blood seeping into the brain tissue, causing damage to brain cells. The most common causes of hemorrhagic stroke are high blood pressure and brain aneurysms. An aneurysm is a weakness or thinness in the blood vessel wall.
The most common symptoms of a stroke are weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body. Some people also experience loss of vision, loss of speech, difficulty talking, loss of balance and sudden, severe headache.
Lifestyle Changes for People with PAD
Many people can manage the symptoms of PAD and stop the progression of the disease through lifestyle changes, especially quitting smoking. To stabilize or improve PAD:
- Stop smoking. Smoking contributes to constriction and damage to your arteries and is a significant risk factor for the development and worsening of PAD.
- Exercise. Success in treatment of PAD is often measured by how far you can walk without pain. Proper exercise helps condition your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently. Your doctor can help you develop an appropriate exercise plan.
- Eat a healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat can help control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which contribute to PAD.
How is PAD Treated?
In cases too severe to be managed with lifestyle changes, it is wise to see a vascular specialist like Dr. Russell Lam of Lam Vascular & Associates. He may recommend peripheral artery bypass surgery or a minimally-invasive vascular procedure such as angioplasty and stenting or laser atherectomy.
Amputations and invasive surgeries are far less common for PAD treatment due to the development of these endovascular, or minimally invasive, procedures. Dr. Lam specializes in these types of procedures and has performed close to 10,000 to date.
Being educated about this condition is the first step to avoiding serious complications, followed by proper lifestyle adjustments and treatment. Dr. Lam invites you to schedule an appointment for an in-office evaluation at Lam Vascular & Associates. Click here to schedule one now.
The information contained in this article is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice. Patient results will vary based on risk factors, age, disease and medical history and are not guaranteed in any way.