If you suspect you have high blood pressure, or your primary care doctor has diagnosed you with high blood pressure—also known as hypertension—you may be wondering if you’re at risk of developing peripheral artery disease (PAD).
For advanced diagnosis and treatment, make an appointment with one of our board-certified vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers. Your USA Vascular Centers care team can expertly guide you through diagnosing and treating PAD following a hypertension diagnosis.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure that persists over time. Having hypertension means that the force of blood pumping from your heart is high enough that it may be damaging your artery walls.
You may live for years with hypertension without knowing it. Some people experience hypertension symptoms such as headaches, nosebleeds, and shortness of breath once the condition is life-threatening. A better way to keep track of your blood pressure is to visit your doctor at least every two years for a blood pressure reading.
You can also purchase a blood pressure cuff and take readings at home, consulting your doctor if you are concerned about the results. Risk factors for hypertension include stress, tobacco use, a high-sodium diet, diabetes, and sleep apnea, a condition that causes you to stop breathing periodically throughout the night.
If you have any hypertension risk factors, ask your doctor how to monitor your blood pressure more regularly. If needed, your doctor can give you medications to control your blood pressure. Controlling hypertension symptoms is key to lowering your risk of hypertension and PAD. Left untreated, hypertension can lead to peripheral artery disease.
How Does Blood Pressure Lead to PAD?
Blood pressure measures how much force your blood exerts on your artery walls as it travels through your vascular system. Two numbers to consider in a blood pressure reading are systolic and diastolic. The systolic blood pressure number measures the pressure your blood exerts with each heartbeat. The diastolic number shows how much pressure your blood exerts in between heartbeats.
Your primary care physician will use an inflatable cuff and a stethoscope to measure your blood pressure. Or, you can use an at-home blood pressure monitor to track your blood pressure on your own.
A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers: the systolic number goes first (or above), and the diastolic goes second (or below). Let’s explore what the numbers can mean:
- Less than 120 over less than 80: Normal blood pressure
- 120-129 over 80-89: Elevated blood pressure
- 130-139 over 80-89: High blood pressure (hypertension) Stage 1
- 140 or higher over 90 or higher: High blood pressure (hypertension) Stage 2
- Higher than 180 over higher than 120: Hypertensive crisis (seek emergency care)
High blood pressure can damage your arteries. When you have high blood pressure, the forceful impact of blood against your artery walls can inflict microtears that heal into scar tissue. As plaque passes through your arteries, it can easily catch on this uneven surface, making them more susceptible to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis). Lowering your blood pressure helps decrease your risk of hypertension and PAD.
Signs & Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease
Atherosclerosis narrows your arteries, restricting blood flow and eventually leading to the development of PAD symptoms, including leg pain while walking (claudication); swelling in the legs and feet; sores that develop on the lower limbs that do not heal; slow-growing toenails; loss of hair on legs; change in leg or foot temperature; and numbness in the lower limbs.
You are at higher risk of developing hypertension and PAD if you live with these hereditary or physical risk factors:
- High cholesterol
- Advanced age (over 65 years old)
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic kidney disease
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
Some lifestyle habits, such as using tobacco, drinking too much alcohol, eating a high-sodium diet, little physical activity, or experiencing high stress can also lead to hypertension and PAD.
Why Early Detection of PAD and Hypertension Is Important
There’s no doubt that hypertension and PAD can be devastating conditions, but prompt treatment offers hope. Your provider can guide you to the right treatments and medications to help lower your blood pressure and risk for PAD. However, even people with PAD can benefit from early detection and treatment of hypertension and PAD.
For those in the earlier stages of the condition, lifestyle changes can significantly slow the progression of PAD. Patients with moderate to severe PAD can benefit from treatments that aim to open clogged arteries, allowing blood to move more freely through the vascular system.
If you have any PAD or hypertension symptoms, pay attention to them. This is especially important if you also have any of the PAD and hypertension risk factors. The sooner you seek diagnosis and treatment, the better.
Management and Treatment of Hypertension and PAD
One of the most important things you can do to lower your blood pressure is to implement lifestyle changes. This includes starting an exercise routine, quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol consumption, eating foods with less sodium, and decreasing your stress levels. Lowering your blood pressure can also help reduce your risk of developing PAD.
If you are worried that you might have peripheral artery disease due to high blood pressure, seek a vascular specialist, such as one at USA Vascular Centers, who is trained in treating PAD and other vascular conditions. Your vascular specialist can conduct a physical and medical history to help diagnose PAD.
A specialist may also order lab tests, an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test, conduct an ultrasound, or use a catheter to perform an angiography that can take images of the inside of your vascular system. In addition, your vascular specialist may recommend lifestyle changes, medication, or a minimally invasive procedure to open your narrowed arteries and help relieve your symptoms. The most common minimally invasive treatments are:
- Angioplasty, a procedure that uses a balloon-tipped catheter and a guidewire to go into the affected artery and widen it, improving blood flow.
- Stent placement, which implements the same steps as an angioplasty but with the addition of the placement of a mesh stent to prop the artery open.
- Atherectomy, in which a vascular specialist uses a very small rotating blade or laser technology to remove plaque from the affected artery.
Unmanaged High Blood Pressure Risks
High blood pressure and hypertension symptoms that go untreated can lead to many complications. In addition to peripheral artery disease, hypertension can increase your risk of heart attack due to clogged arteries leading to the heart. If arteries that supply blood to the brain become clogged, you’re at elevated risk of stroke. The demanding, heightened workload caused by high blood pressure can enlarge your heart, leading to heart failure.
Kidneys can also suffer from high blood pressure in the arteries. If the arteries leading to the kidneys become narrow, the organs may not be able to filter blood as effectively. In addition to all of these serious problems, hypertension can affect sexual function, cause chest pain, and decrease your quality of life.2 Seeking treatment for hypertension symptoms can be one of the best ways to take care of your body.
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers
Our vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers are trusted experts in diagnosing and treating peripheral artery disease and high blood pressure. We’ll help treat your PAD symptoms so you can get back to enjoying your family, friends, and favorite activities.