Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a common circulatory problem in which fats, cholesterol and other substances build up inside the arteries and obstruct blood flow. When narrowing occurs in the heart, it is called Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), while in the brain, it is called Cerebrovascular Disease (CVD).
PAD is a term most commonly reserved for when the disease affects the legs, but other arteries may also be involved. Sure sign symptoms are muscle spasms or pain in the legs when walking plus a change in color of legs, sores on lower limbs, coldness or numbing and cramping.
Those at highest risk for PAD are smokers, have high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, are over the age of 50 and have a family history of PAD, heart disease or stroke.
The key is to get one’s PAD properly diagnosed during a physical or foot exam and have it treated right away. However, PAD can be misdiagnosed as aging or back pain, which may lead to individuals choosing to walk less. Since it is thought of as aging, patients generally do not mention it to their physician. When misdiagnosed, risk factors are not addressed and patients are not treated. Untreated, PAD can lead to advanced stages of the disease and serious complications like heart attacks, strokes and amputation.
The treatment is often simple. Once one’s physician has sent the patient to an interventional cardiologist, they will schedule an outpatient procedure, which will open up the vessels and clean out the plaque build-up.
As an interventional cardiologist at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill., I have a plethora of tools, including sophisticated catheters with imaging ability, so arteries closed for a long time can be opened with minimal damage to the vessel. We also use stents and balloons, some of them coated with medication preventing re-narrowing of the treated artery.
PAD can be prevented if risk factors are addressed on time, and it can be very successfully treated with completed resolution of symptoms if patients are seen by a vascular specialist. Since PAD is a risk factor for other vascular problems like heart attacks or stroke, early diagnosis and treatment may prevent those events.