ROSEMONT, Ill., Sept. 25, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Between 12 and 20 percent of Americans over age 60 have peripheral arterial disease (also called PAD or leg artery disease). And yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control, only about a quarter of the population knows PAD can destroy feet and legs, and even cause death.
The disease, which is caused by atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, becomes much more prevalent with age. By age 80 and older, more than 25 percent of men and 20 percent of women have PAD. The disease causes what many people call "poor circulation." It may never progress beyond the mild stage, but it also could lead to a deadly conclusion.
Here are some important facts to know and share:
- Who gets PAD? PAD can afflict anyone, but people with diabetes are especially at risk. Those who have diabetes must control their blood sugar; too much sugar in the blood damages the linings of the arteries and that can cause PAD.
African-American ethnicity is also associated with higher risk. Other risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.
- Smoking makes it worse. Cigarette smoking speeds up hardening of the arteries and causes many of the PAD cases doctors see. Smokers typically also experience more pain with PAD and are harder to treat. African-Americans who smoke more than a pack a day are at significantly higher risk than those who smoke less.
Nicotine, the key drug in cigarette smoke, is highly addictive and is damaging to the blood vessels. A primary care doctor can prescribe medication to help with smoking cessation or offer other resources.
- What are the symptoms? Leg cramps when walking that go away with rest are a common sign of PAD. The cramps can occur in the calf, thigh, hip or buttock. In the early stages of the disease, however, many people have no symptoms at all. (Leg cramps don't always indicate PAD. A doctor should make the diagnosis.)
As the disease gets worse, non-healing wounds on the legs or feet may start showing up; this condition needs immediate attention from a doctor to prevent limb loss.
- Walking helps. Exercise is good for almost everyone, and especially those in the early stages of PAD. Even if it hurts to walk, one of the best prescriptions for early-stage PAD is a pair of walking shoes.
If a doctor agrees walking is right for you, the prescription may be supervised exercise therapy with a physical therapist (covered by Medicare) or you may be advised to set your own regular routine.
Vascular surgeons suggest walking until the pain level feels like a three on a scale of one-10 (where 10 is very painful). When the pain reaches a three, stop and rest until the pain goes away, then start walking again. Walk about 30 minutes a day, three to five days a week. This helps legs and feet use oxygen more efficiently and may also help them build new vascular pathways. Over time, walkers will be able to increase the distance they can walk without pain.
While it can be difficult to walk regularly if it causes cramps, know that the cramps will not cause permanent damage – but not walking probably will.
- What kind of doctor should I see? If your regular doctor suspects you might have PAD, ask to be referred to a vascular surgeon, a specialist in blood vessel diseases. Other specialties that treat PAD are limited to a few possible treatments, which may or may not be right for you. Vascular surgeons are trained in every type of treatment.
The Society for Vascular Surgery® (SVS) is a not-for-profit professional medical society, composed of specialty-trained vascular surgeons and professionals, which seeks to advance excellence and innovation in vascular health through education, advocacy, research and public awareness.
SOURCE Society for Vascular Surgery