According to the Centers for Disease Control, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) affects as many as eight million people in the United States, and increases in prevalence with age. One in every eight Americans older than 60 years of age have PAD, but general awareness of this medical issue remains limited.
Because PAD usually affects the lower extremities, people may also be at risk for chronic or slow-healing wounds on their legs, ankles and feet. The reduced blood flow also sets the stage for increased infection, which can negatively impact wound healing and lead to severe complications.
What is Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)?
PAD develops when arteries become completely or partially blocked with plaque deposits that limit blood flow to legs. Just like clogged arteries in the heart, clogged arteries in the legs increase the risk of heart attack, stroke or even death. Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) in the legs does not always cause symptoms, so many people can have PAD and not know it. People who do experience symptoms, such as pain or cramping in the legs, often do not report them, believing they are a natural part of aging or due to another cause.
PAD Risk Factors
Common risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and age. Because it impacts so many people with diabetes, PAD is considered a primary co-morbidity of this disease.
Chronic toe and foot sores are common in people with PAD, as are cramping, numbness, weakness or heaviness in the leg muscles. Those who have any of the risk factors for PAD should ask their healthcare professional about PAD. A physician can check for signs of the disease with a simple test of pulses in the feet.
The Wound Care Center at Desert View Hospital recommends the following action steps to help manage PAD:
- Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and correcting blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.
- Developing healthy eating habits and an exercise plan.
- Exercising can help increase the circulation and reduce pain in the lower extremities. Walking, hiking and bike riding are good exercise options. A personal trainer can help tailor a custom workout plan that best fits a person’s needs.
- Medications — Always consult with a physician about which medications may help PAD and if they are needed.
- Special procedures and surgeries — In some severe cases of PAD, surgery may be needed to open arteries that have narrowed. Consult with a physician to see if surgery is a necessary treatment.
- Regular foot exams can identify any open sores early.
To make an appointment with the Wound Care Center, call 775-751-7505. A physician’s order is required.