Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries obstruct blood flow to a person’s limbs. The disease most commonly is the result of progressive buildup of fatty acids or plaque in the arteries. Plaque buildup in the arteries’ walls is known as atherosclerosis, and causes the arteries to narrow or become blocked. Plaque is composed of cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in blood. Common symptoms of PAD include painful muscle cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking or exercising. The pain occurs because the muscle isn’t receiving adequate amount of blood supply to meet the increased demand while you are exercising, climbing or walking. The pain usually goes away after you stop exercising, because a resting muscle can get by with less blood supply.

PAD is most prevalent in seniors over the age of 50, which results in substantial walking impairment and poses 3-fold increased risk of cardiovascular disease morbidity. It can result in higher mortality rate if the disease is associated with symptomatic cerebrovascular disease due to reduced blood supply to the patient’s brain.

Eight to twelve million people in the U.S. are currently affected by PAD [1]. If you are a diabetic over 50 years of age, it further increases your chances of suffering from PAD. If the condition is left untreated, it has the potential of developing into serious conditions such as heart attack, stroke, or even amputation.

 

Plaque buildup results in sedentary lifestyle 

Many patients mistake the symptoms simply as being due to the ageing process. Initially, the patient experiences mild pain after walking for some distance, which resolves itself after a short period of rest. As the pain resolves itself, the patient tends to adopt an inactive lifestyle to avoid the discomfort during physical activities. Over time, if PAD is left untreated, one may experience pain even at rest.

 

Findings of the First National PAD Public Awareness Survey

In the First National PAD Public Awareness Survey of 2007 [2], 26% of the respondents in the age group of 55 to 79 years expressed familiarity with PAD. Even within the PAD-aware respondents, almost half of the respondents were not aware of the fact that smoking and diabetes significantly increase the risk of developing PAD. 25% percent of the respondents were found to be aware of the increased risk of heart attack and stroke, while only 14% were found to be aware that the disease could lead to amputation of the limb. The survey was conducted on a nationally-representative sample of 2501 adults with high prevalent of risk factors with a modest burden of known cerebrovascular or coronary disease.

Lurking Risks Due to Low Awareness Levels Among Seniors

People and seniors at large are poorly informed about PAD, limb symptoms and the associated amputation risk. They are not even aware that the disease inflicts a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and may even cause death. The awareness level is found to be poor among the seniors with lower income and education levels. For the national cardiovascular disease burden to be reduced, senior populations need to be made aware of the high risks of the disease through public education programs.

 

ABI Testing

PAD can be economically diagnosed by measuring the affected individual’s Ankle-Brachial Index, also known as an ABI test. As a standardized practice, a person is considered to be afflicted by PAD if the ABI is found to be 0.90 or less, there is history of limb revascularization or there is a documented medical record.

Don’t Wait for PAD Symptoms to Worsen

PAD is not limited to elderlies only, and may be caused by the typical pains of growing older. The longer you wait for its treatment, the more inconvenient and invasive the procedure will be. If left untreated, the disease can result in open sores, shrinkage of calf muscle, impotency, hair loss on the legs and feet, legs may become numb when at rest, and tissue death, commonly known as gangrene.  Timely treatment can save you from these severe implications. There are several ways to treat the disease that include making lifestyle changes like reducing sodium and fat consumption, exercising regularly, losing weight, quit smoking, and managing your high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels. Taking medication to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol levels can help as well. Finally, there are minimally invasive procedures like stent angioplasty that can improve circulation and lessen the frequency and intensity of leg pain.

 

References

Journal of the American College of Cardiology https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109706019164

 

Hirsch, A., Murphy, T., Lovell, M., Twillman, G., Treat-Jacobson, D., Harwood, E., . . . Criqui, M. (2007, October 30). Gaps in Public Knowledge of Peripheral Arterial Disease: The First National PAD Public Awareness Survey – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved September 5, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed