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Peripheral Arterial Disease: Not just a Pain in Your Leg

Posted 8/9/2016 by UHBlog

Do you have ongoing pain, cramping and discomfort in your legs? Make sure it's not peripheral artery disease (PAD) by getting screened.

Peripheral Arterial Disease: Not just a Pain in Your Leg

You may have thought that plaque only builds up in the arteries leading to the heart, but did you know that it can cause damage in your legs, too? When it does, not only is walking painful, but you risk losing a leg, foot or toe to amputation – or worse.

According to interventional cardiologist Sahil Parikh, MD, the buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits in the arteries is known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when plaque blocks the arteries in your legs and restricts blood flow to your head, organs and other limbs.

“This is an insidious disease,” Dr. Parikh says. “Peripheral artery disease can be limb-threatening. The constriction can result in difficulty walking because of pain, cramping and discomfort. Patients with severe PAD can develop ulcers on their feet or have cuts or wounds that do not heal. Gangrene can also develop and if unchecked, that can lead to the need for amputation of a toe or part of the foot or leg.”

Oftentimes, people with PAD may not even know they have it. Of the eight million to 12 million Americans estimated to have this slow, progressive disorder, 50 percent of them have no signs or symptoms. That’s why Dr. Parikh recommends getting screened by a vascular specialist, especially if you have any of the risks that make you susceptible for developing PAD.

“There are a number of risk factors associated with PAD,” he says. “Some of these you can’t control, but others are modifiable risk factors. Aggressive treatment of these can make a difference in the long-term outcomes.”

Among the risk factors you can’t change are:

  • Age – PAD especially affects those older than age 50
  • Gender – Men are more at risk
  • Family history – If a first-degree relative has had heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or peripheral vascular disease, you're more at risk
  • Diabetes
  • Being postmenopausal

Risk factors that you can change and/or treat include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood sugar
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking or use of tobacco products, which increases your risk of PAD

The screening process for PAD is simple and takes place in the exam room, Dr. Parikh says. You remove your shoes and socks so the doctor can physically exam your legs and feet. Additionally, your doctor will rely on an ankle-brachial index to measure and compare the blood pressure in your arms and ankles.

“What we identify in the screening is just the tip of the iceberg for those patients who don't know if they have this disease,” Dr. Parikh says. “The medical treatments and interventions we provide can be both life- and limb-saving.”

Sahil Parikh, MD is an interventional cardiologist at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Parikh or any other doctor online.

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