Does your leg hurt or feel tired when you walk or climb stairs? If you feel pain in your calf or buttock this could be because of peripheral artery disease (PAD). There is not a quick treatment for PAD but medical management and lifestyle changes can help prevent progression of the disease.
Peripheral artery disease is often silent in the early stages. As the disease progresses, walking even short distances may become painful. Often when you stop walking the pain will go away. This is called claudication. This may be your first warning sign of PAD.
What is peripheral artery disease?
Peripheral artery disease occurs when flow through the blood vessels (arteries) that carry blood to the legs becomes sluggish. This happens because the arteries become narrowed. The most common cause of PAD is arteriosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. This is a slow process in which the arteries become narrowed from the collection of fatty deposits called plaque. Over time, the build-up of plaque can reduce oxygen rich blood flow in the arteries.
Based on symptoms of claudication your doctor may suspect peripheral artery disease. Physical exam and health history may be adequate for diagnosis. Your doctor will want to know about any risk factors, how far you are able to walk before you experience pain and what you do to relieve the pain. During the physical exam your doctor will check your pulses, examine your legs and feet for changes in color and temperature. All of these things will help your doctor diagnose peripheral artery disease.
Based on the outcome of your physical exam your doctor may order further studies. These studies will help measure blood flow through the arteries. The first may be a non-invasive flow study; it does not use needles, x-rays or dyes. Blood pressure readings are taken along your leg. An instrument known as a Doppler is used to evaluate blood flow at each site.
The next study you may have is an arteriogram (also called angiogram). A needle is placed in your groin and then a special dye is injected. Pictures are taken of the blood flow through the arteries. If a blockage is seen the doctor may attempt to open the blocked artery using a minimally invasive technique.
Reducing your risk factors
Peripheral artery disease does not go away, but you can help slow the progression of it. You can do this by reducing your risk factors.
Quit smoking, and do it now. The sooner you can stop, the sooner the progression of the disease can be stopped. There are chemicals in cigarettes that decrease your circulation by injuring the walls of the arteries. Help yourself quit by avoiding situations that may trigger you to smoke. Try new activities to distract you from wanting to smoke. Build a support system with your family and friends. You may also find it helpful to join a local support group. Abington Memorial Hospital offers programs on smoking cessation free of charge. You may call 215-481-8950 for more information.
Control your diet. Changing what you eat may reduce your risk factors by helping to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Control your weight because extra pounds stored as fat can increase blood pressure. Try to consume only one third of your daily calories form fat. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Ask your physician for more information regarding your diet and restrictions.
Control your blood pressure. If you take medications for high blood pressure be sure to take them as ordered. Follow up regularly with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure.
Exercise daily to control your weight as well as help lower your blood pressure. Exercise can also help improve blood flow by working your muscles and the blood vessels that supply the oxygen rich blood to them.