Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a condition that describes the buildup of plaque in the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis. If left untreated, the build-up of plaque can cause arteries to harden and narrow. This makes it more difficult for blood to travel through the body, especially to the legs and ankles.
PAD most commonly occurs in the legs and ankles, but it can also have negative effects on the arteries leading to your stomach, head, kidneys, and arms. PAD increases the risk for a variety of serious health conditions, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and even death. You may be wondering if your primary care physician can treat this condition, and if not, what type of doctor treats peripheral artery disease? Is there such a thing as an atherosclerosis doctor specialist?
Doctors who specialize in treating PAD and atherosclerosis are called peripheral vascular specialists or vascular doctors. If you’re worried you or a loved one may have PAD, reach out to the care team at USA Vascular Centers. Our board-certified vascular doctors are experts in diagnosing and treating PAD. They perform non-surgical PAD treatments that can improve blood flow and reduce symptoms of PAD. We encourage you to make a virtual or in-person appointment with our doctors to gain an understanding of what your PAD risk factors are and what treatments are available to you.
What Doctor Checks for PAD?
PAD care may begin with your primary care doctor, but you will most likely be referred to a peripheral vascular specialist for an official PAD diagnosis. Your primary care physician may help you manage mild cases of PAD through positive lifestyle changes like addressing your diabetes, blood pressure, or cholesterol. For treatment that goes beyond these lifestyle changes, your doctor may refer you to a peripheral vascular specialist.
Vascular specialists are experienced in treating many blood vessel conditions. They can perform diagnostic tests to find out how and where PAD is affecting you. Two common tests are ankle-brachial index tests and angiograms. An ankle-brachial index test measures and compares the blood pressure in your ankle and arm to determine whether plaque has built up to the point of restricting blood flow in your arteries. Angiograms are images taken of the inside of your arteries. To take angiograms, your peripheral vascular specialist will use a thin catheter, contrast dye, and X-ray imaging to determine the location and extent of arterial blockage.
A cardiologist may also be involved in the treatment process. Cardiologists mainly focus on problems with the heart, like heart disease or heart attack, which can occur as a result of untreated PAD.
What is the Best Treatment for Peripheral Artery Disease?
There are two main goals of treating PAD: to relieve symptoms and to prevent further buildup of plaque in the arteries. If your condition is mild, your doctor may prescribe some lifestyle changes or medication as an effort to stop your condition from requiring further treatment. Your doctor may advise you to take medications that lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, or medication to aid in blood clot prevention. Symptom relief medications may also be recommended.
Your doctor will likely ask you some questions about your lifestyle to determine what may have contributed to your case of PAD. For example, they may ask if you smoke and advise you to quit immediately to prevent the PAD from getting worse.
Once the PAD is diagnosed, peripheral vascular specialists can treat PAD through nonsurgical, outpatient treatments, including angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy. These minimally invasive treatments can open the artery, reducing plaque blockages and improving blood flow and circulation. Treatment may also help mitigate the risk of PAD complications. At USA Vascular Centers, stent angioplasty is a simple, office-based procedure that can help restore your mobility.
When Should I See a Doctor for Peripheral Artery Disease?
If you are experiencing pain while walking or going up stairs, leg pain that disturbs your sleep, poor leg hair or toenail growth, or slow/non-healing wounds on your legs, consult with your doctor right away. They can determine the cause of your symptoms, diagnose any conditions, and refer you to a peripheral vascular specialist that can help you find relief.
People commonly avoid treatment because they may not notice symptoms or think the symptoms are a normal part of growing older. Peripheral artery disease is important to diagnose and treat as soon as possible in its early stages. Regardless of your age, you should never be experiencing consistent pain in your legs or ankles.
Find Peripheral Artery Disease Doctors Near You
Testing for PAD is simple. It requires blood pressure of the arms and legs to be compared for major differences, also known as an ankle-branchial index (ABI). If the blood pressure in your legs is higher than the blood pressure of your arms, there’s a good chance it’s a result of PAD.
At USA Vascular Centers, we have an expansive team of vascular doctors dedicated to providing top-quality vascular care to all patients. Each minimally invasive PAD treatment is done at one of our renowned, AAAHC-accredited outpatient treatment centers. 888.773.2193 to find out how we can help you find relief from your PAD symptoms.