Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when arteries are narrowed or blocked, causing a reduction of blood flow to the peripheral limbs (the arms and legs), most commonly in the legs. It is a widespread health concern, impacting more than 6.5 million people in the U.S. over the age of 40.
PAD Signs and Symptoms
No matter the cause of PAD, many people experience the same symptoms. Other people have no symptoms at all, which is why regular visits to your primary doctor are important. For people who do experience symptoms, they may include:
- Leg pain, numbness, aching, or a feeling of heaviness, especially while walking or while climbing stairs
- Wounds that are slow to heal, or don’t heal at all, in the legs, feet, or toes
- Weak pulses in the legs or feet
- Skin discoloration or changes in skin texture
- Decreased or slow growth of toenails or of the hair on the legs
- In men, erectile dysfunction
Without treatment, PAD increases the risk of some dangerous health complications, including heart attack, stroke, transient ischemic attack, and amputation.
Most peripheral artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fatty deposits in the artery walls that reduce blood flow to the peripheral limbs. When plaque hardens over time, the arteries become very narrow, which limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood that the peripheral limbs need to be healthy.
Blood Vessel Inflammation
Blood vessel inflammation is called vasculitis, which is rare, but a possible cause for PAD. Vasculitis can cause the walls of blood vessels to thicken, reducing the blood flow. It’s sometimes short-term, but it’s still important to consult a vascular specialist for treatment.
Traumatic injury to the limbs can lead to trauma in the blood vessels as well. If blood vessels are weakened, damaged, or blocked because of injury, peripheral artery disease can occur, but this is not a common cause of PAD. Similarly, and also rarely, unusual anatomy of ligaments and muscles can cause weakened or damaged blood vessels that can increase the risk for PAD.
Some studies indicate a connection between radiation exposure and PAD, including for long-surviving cancer patients who received radiation therapy. This is because high doses of radiation can damage vascular cells, but this is not a common cause of PAD.
Different Types of Risk Factors for PAD
There are both “controllable” and “noncontrollable” risk factors for PAD. Controllable risk factors include things that you can change like your diet, exercise, and other lifestyle habits. Noncontrollable risk factors may include your genetics or other health conditions that you have that you can’t control. Even with noncontrollable risk factors, you can take actions to manage your health optimally to reduce your risk for developing PAD and for reducing the risk for serious complications if you do develop it.
One of the leading controllable risk factors for PAD is smoking. Smoking has extremely negative effects on vascular health, causing atherosclerotic changes in blood vessel walls.
People with diabetes are at increased risk for developing PAD and for severe complications from PAD.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) can cause plaque formation which leads to atherosclerosis, putting you at higher risk for PAD. Because high blood pressure also puts extra force on the artery walls, it can lead to damaged and weakened arteries which is also a PAD risk. If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to work with your doctor to keep it well managed.
At high levels, LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, which restricts blood flow and increases the risk for PAD and other health conditions.
Obesity is tied to other PAD risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, but studies have also shown that even without those conditions, being obese can increase the risk for PAD. Some research suggests that obesity can lead to an inflammatory response in the body which can impact arteries.
Non-controllable Risk Factors
Some factors that you can’t control or manage include:
- Age: As you age, your risk for PAD increases, most commonly affecting people after the age of 50.
- Family Health History: If there is family history of heart disease, you may be at increased risk for developing PAD
- Race and ethnicity: African American and Hispanic patients are at an increased risk for developing PAD.
Peripheral Artery Disease Treatment Options
Prompt and effective treatment for PAD is critical to prevent serious complications. At the earliest sign of symptoms, talk to your doctor to get proper diagnosis and learn about treatment options if needed.
Early stage treatment may include non-invasive options like exercise therapy, diet modification, and prescription medications. If the condition has progressed, your doctor may recommend minimally-invasive procedures to help control or reverse the effects of PAD and reduce your risk of life-threatening complications.
There are several minimally-invasive procedures we offer at Beach Wellness MD for people with peripheral artery disease. Our vascular specialists are experts in the care of PAD and offer same-day treatment options such as atherectomy, balloon angioplasty, and stenting.
Consult a Trusted Vascular Specialist!
If you have a diagnosis of peripheral artery disease or if you have some symptoms of it, talk to a trusted vascular specialist. No matter the cause, it’s important to seek prompt treatment in order to minimize dangerous complications from this condition.
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.