Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a vascular condition that most commonly affects the legs, but can affect the arms as well. It’s usually caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty plaque deposits in the arteries. With PAD, blood flow is reduced to the legs and the amount of blood that is able to circulate to the limbs can’t keep up with the body’s needs.
It’s important to seek medical care if you have PAD, because it puts you at risk for more serious health problems. It leads to an increased risk for stroke and heart attack, and can lead to the need for amputation, among other serious complications.
Signs You Should See a Doctor for PAD
Learn to recognize the symptoms of PAD so that you can seek medical care. Top signs you should see a doctor, include:
- Pain or cramping in the arms or legs, especially if it’s more acute with physical activity and goes away with rest.
- Numbness or weakness in the legs
- Cramping or pain in one or both of your thighs, hips, or calf muscles
- Non-healing wounds or sores on the feet, toes, or legs
- Coldness in the lower leg or foot
- Shiny skin on the legs, or other changes in skin color
- Slow toenail growth or slow hair growth on the legs and feet
- Weak pulse in the legs or feet
- In men, erectile dysfunction
As PAD progresses, you may feel pain even when you’re at rest and it can sometimes be severe enough to disrupt your sleep.
What are the Risks of Leaving PAD untreated?
PAD comes with serious health risks. People with PAD are at increased risk for developing coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), a stroke that lasts only a few minutes.
The buildup of plaque in the arteries can also lead to critical limb ischemia—non-healing open sores on the feet and legs. If not treated properly, the progression of tissue damage or infection can even cause the need for amputation.
Choose the Right Doctor to Treat Peripheral Artery Disease
If you have Peripheral Artery Disease, there may be more than one kind of doctor involved in your care. Let’s take a look at the different physicians and caregivers who may treat you.
Primary Care Doctor
For initial diagnosis and treatment of mild cases of PAD, you may start with your primary care doctor. A primary care doctor can help advise you on how to manage symptoms and prevent the disease from progressing. If PAD is still in early stages, your doctor may recommend important lifestyle changes.
Walking every day is a good moderate exercise that can help manage symptoms. Your primary care doctor may also advise other exercises, like using a stationary bike or elliptical machine, or exercises like gentle yoga or tai chi. These types of physical activities can help your blood. If you experience pain or discomfort that makes it too difficult to exercise, talk to your doctor.
If you smoke, the number one step you can take to manage your peripheral artery disease is to quit. Quitting smoking can drastically reduce the risk for amputation for people with PAD, as well as for life-threatening complications like heart attack and stroke. Your primary care doctor can advise you on smoking cessation programs and even prescribe medication, if necessary.
Manage Chronic Health Conditions
Your primary care doctor is always a good place to start when managing chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. If you have these conditions, you’re at higher risk for developing PAD, and if you already have PAD, keeping these and other chronic health conditions well-managed is extremely important for keeping PAD from progressing.
Supervised Exercise Therapy for PAD Team
Sometimes, your primary care physician, or vascular physician may refer you to a Supervised Exercise Therapy for Peripheral Artery Disease program. This is a structured program that is meant to help patients improve their quality of life and manage PAD.
A supervised exercise therapy program takes place under the medical direction of a physician and may include a comprehensive care team of registered nurses, respiratory therapists, and clinical exercise specialists.
Patients work within a specialized program, with sessions several days a week for 12 weeks. They may also receive education around PAD risk factors, nutrition, and other formal lifestyle counseling.
For people with more advanced PAD, it’s important to seek the care of a vascular specialist. At Beach Wellness MD, we can cover the spectrum of PAD treatments, from early intervention, referrals to exercise therapy programs and lifestyle counselling, to medication and vascular procedures.
After a consultation and exam, a vascular specialist can provide recommendations including: medications, lifestyle changes, activity and chronic disease management. If these steps prove unsuccessful or your symptoms progress a minimally invasive procedure may be recommended/indicated.
Minimally-Invasive Treatments for PAD
A vascular specialist can also help with minimally-invasive treatments effective for PAD, including balloon angioplasty, atherectomy, and/or stenting.
Balloon angioplasty is a procedure that opens narrowed or blocked peripheral arteries. A tiny needle is placed into the artery, through the hip, and a flexible catheter is inserted through the needle into the artery. Using specialized x-ray fluoroscopy guidance, a miniature balloon on the catheter’s tip is inflated to reopen the constricted artery and enhance blood flow.
Atherectomy can be used with an angioplasty or on its own. Using a catheter with an attached cutting tool, the surgeon will remove the blockage in the artery.
Stenting is used to hold open a weakened artery. A stent reinforces blood vessel walls at an area of previous blockage.
After these minimally-invasive procedures, patients remain under observation, but are able to go home the same day.
Sometimes people with PAD have other specialists involved in their care. Some patients may also see a cardiologist to help with heart problems or heart disease. People with diabetes may see a specialist such as an endocrinologist to help manage the condition. But because PAD is a vascular issue, it’s important to have a vascular specialist involved in PAD treatment.
Consult a Trusted PAD Specialist!
If you have symptoms of PAD, it’s important to seek medical treatment for a proper diagnosis and treatment. If left untreated, complications from PAD can be severe, so it’s important to seek care with the proper specialist. At Beach Wellness MD, our primary focus is on restoring your health and improving your quality of life.
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 today to schedule your appointment.