P.A.D. is short for Peripheral Arterial Disease. People have P.A.D. when the arteries in their legs become narrowed or clogged with fatty deposits, or plaque. The buildup of plaque causes the arteries to harden and narrow, which is called atherosclerosis. When leg arteries are hardened and clogged, blood flow to the legs and feet is reduced. Some people call this poor circulation.
P.A.D. occurs most often in the arteries in the legs, but it also can affect other arteries that carry blood outside the heart. This includes arteries that go to the aorta, the brain, the arms, the kidneys and the stomach. When arteries inside the heart are hardened or narrowed, it is called coronary artery disease or cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that like other diseases related to the arteries, P.A.D. can be treated by making lifestyle changes, by taking medicines, or by having endovascular or surgical procedures, if needed.
Lower-extremity P.A.D. is a serious disease that affects about 8 million Americans. The hardened arteries found in people with P.A.D. are a sign that they are likely to have hardened and narrowed arteries to the heart and the brain. That is why people with P.A.D. are at high risk for having a heart attack or a stroke.
When the blood flow to the legs is greatly (or severely) reduced, people with P.A.D. may have pain when walking. P.A.D. may cause other problems that can lead to amputation. People with P.A.D. may become disabled and not be able to go to work. As time goes on, they may have a very poor quality of life.
The chance of having P.A.D. increases as you get older. People over age 50 have a higher risk for P.A.D., but the risk is increased if you:
P.A.D. develops slowly over many years. In the early stages, most people with P.A.D. have no symptoms. Only about one out of three people with P.A.D. actually feel there is something wrong with their feet or legs. By that time, their arteries may be so clogged or hardened that they are not getting enough oxygen to supply their leg muscles.
The most common signs of P.A.D. include one or more of these problems:
Sometimes, people ignore their leg pain and think it is just a sign that they are getting older. As a result, many people with P.A.D. do not know they have it and do not get treatment. It is important to discuss any leg or thigh pain you may be having with your health care provider since it may be a warning sign of a serious disease such as P.A.D.
If you think you have P.A.D., see your health care provider and talk about any symptoms you are having and go over your medical history and your risk factors for P.A.D. Your provider will examine the pulses in your feet and legs. If your provider finds those pulses are weak and thinks you may have P.A.D., your provider may order a test called the ABI, which stands for ankle-brachial index.
The ABI is the best test for finding out if you have P.A.D. It uses sound waves to find out if there is reduced blood flow in the arteries. It also compares the blood pressure in your ankles with the blood pressure in your arms. P.A.D. also can be diagnosed by other tests that measure blood pressures in the leg (segmental pressure), toe pressures (toe-brachial index or TBI) or artery blood flow (with ultrasound).
P.A.D. can be treated with lifestyle changes, medicines and endovascular or surgical procedures, if needed. Since people with P.A.D. are at high risk for heart attacks and stroke, they must take charge of controlling their risk factors related to cardiovascular disease.
These life saving steps will help to prevent and control P.A.D.:
For most people with P.A.D., these life saving steps may be enough to slow
down the disease and even improve any symptoms. If needed, your health care
provider can refer you to a specialist for procedures or surgery to treat
arteries that are severely blocked and reduce symptoms.
Remember: Finding and treating P.A.D. early can help keep your legs healthy, lower your risk for heart attack or stroke, and save your life and limbs.