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Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a serious vascular condition in which blood flow is reduced to the peripheral limbs, causing pain, cramping, and sometimes dangerous complications. There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of PAD, even if it can’t always be entirely prevented. Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for the development of PAD. Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between smoking and PAD.

About Peripheral Artery Disease?

Affecting more than 6.5 million people over the age of 40 in the U.S., PAD occurs when arteries are narrowed or blocked and blood flow to the peripheral limbs are reduced. PAD more commonly affects the legs, but can affect the arms as well. The condition can sometimes lead to serious complications, including increasing the risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.

Smoking and Peripheral Artery Diseasecloseup man smoking cigarette

Smoking is one of the leading controllable risk factors for PAD. While smoking may not cause PAD by itself, it can greatly increase your risk for developing it.

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals. Most people know that carcinogens in tobacco smoke can cause cancer, but it’s also important to know the risks to vascular health. E-cigarettes also contain addictive ingredients and many toxic and dangerous and cancer-causing chemicals, even if they’re advertised as being “safer” than tobacco cigarettes.

The most common active compounds in cigarettes are nicotine and carbon monoxide. Inhaling these compounds leads to some immediate responses in the human body. Studies have shown that atherosclerotic changes in blood vessel walls appear to increase with smoking, leading to an increase in the risk for the development of PAD. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries. Plaque can harden over time, making arteries more narrow and limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the limbs.

The link between smoking and PAD is strong. Smoking increases PAD risk by up to six times and for people who already have PAD, smoking can make symptoms worse. Even “light” or occasional smoking has been proven to cause damage to the heart and blood vessels.

Quitting Smoking and Reducing the Risk for PAD

If you’re determined to quit smoking, you have to be prepared for a difficult challenge, but it’s important to know you’re not alone. Talk to your doctor about quitting resources and call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to find free coaching, plans, educational materials, and referrals that can help you quit.

One of the reasons that smoking is so hard to quit is because nicotine, which is naturally found in tobacco, is highly addictive, but with proper planning and support, quitting is possible.

Make a Quit Plan

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidance with a customizable Quit Plan. The main steps are:

  • Pick a quit date: the sooner, the better. A quit date can help keep you goal-oriented and on track.
  • Let people know you’re quitting. Letting loved ones, friends, and colleagues know you’re quitting can help you build a support system and stay accountable.
  • Get rid of smoking reminders. Getting rid of cigarettes, ashtrays, matches and lighters, and cleaning your environment to get rid of smoking smells can help you have a fresh start.
  • Make a list of why you’re quitting. PAD prevention should be at the top of the list! But your list of reasons to quit may be long and can help you stay inspired through the challenging journey.
  • Identify triggers. Alcohol, meals, certain friends, stress—you have personal triggers that may make you crave a smoke. Identifying them can help you anticipate them and learn how to manage cravings.
  • Create coping strategies. Smoking is a serious addiction and nicotine withdrawal is the downfall of many quitters. Nicotine replacement therapy and other medications can help in the quitting process, but it will be important to develop a variety of coping strategies.
  • Reward Yourself! Celebrate milestones along the way to keep positivity in the quitting process.

Other Risk Factors for PAD

Smoking is known as a controllable risk factor. There are other controllable risk factors for PAD for which you can take preventive measures to lower your risk. There are also many non-controllable risk factors. Some factors that can increase your risk of developing PAD include:man breaking cigarette in half

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia)
  • Diabetes
  • Renal failure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age over 60 years
  • African American patients have a higher risk of developing PAD
  • Hispanic patients have a higher risk of developing PAD

Treatment for PAD

If you have concerns about developing or managing vascular conditions, like PAD, it’s important to seek care from a qualified specialist. PAD can sometimes be prevented and can also be treated once it has developed. If it’s not managed, however, you can develop serious—even deadly—health complications. Treatment may include supervised exercise therapy, medications, and minimally-invasive procedures.

Minimally-Invasive Treatments for PAD

At Beach Wellness MD, we specialize in minimally-invasive procedures for people with PAD, including balloon angioplasty, atherectomy, and stenting.

Balloon angioplasty is a procedure that opens narrowed or blocked peripheral arteries. A tiny needle is placed into an artery, and a flexible catheter is inserted guided by x-ray fluoroscopy. A miniature balloon on the catheter’s tip inflates to reopen the affected artery and enhance blood flow.

Atherectomy is a treatment that is used with an angioplasty or on its own. Using a catheter with an attached cutting tool, the surgeon will remove blockages in the narrowed artery.

Stenting is a procedure that can be used to help hold open an artery that is weakened. A stent is made from wire mesh that’s tube-shaped and open on both ends. They are placed to reinforce blood vessel walls at an area of previous blockage.

After these minimally-invasive procedures, patients stay for a few hours under medical observation, but can safely go home the same day.

Consult a Trusted Vascular Specialist!

Quitting smoking is a great first step in preventing PAD and an essential step if you’ve been diagnosed with PAD. If you have a diagnosis or if you are concerned you’re at risk for PAD, especially if you have some symptoms, it’s important to talk to a vascular specialist.

At Beach Wellness MD, our primary focus is on restoring the health and quality of life for our patients. Dr. Ali Golshan, MD, is a leading vascular expert who specializes in PAD and other vascular conditions. Dr. Golshan emphasizes one-on-one treatment and designs personalized care plans for each patient.

Contact us online or call us at (310) 620-1851 today to schedule your appointment.

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