“I have trouble cutting my grass, I have to stop and take breaks. My legs seem to give out.”
That’s a common concern I hear from patients suspected of having peripheral arterial disease or PAD. PAD generally refers to a build-up of plaque in the arteries of your lower extremities, called atherosclerosis. However, it can often spread into arteries of the brain, kidney, stomach and arms.
PAD is similar to coronary artery disease or CAD. In CAD when plaque, or cholesterol build-up, narrows the vessels around your heart, that narrowing can cause chest pain or a heart attack. In PAD, it’s the arteries of the leg that narrow, which causes blood flow to drop. This reduced blood flow causes leg pain, or what doctors call claudication, when patients walk or mow their lawn.
Although quite common, with an estimated 200 million people worldwide having PAD, the disease gets little attention. In the US, nearly 20 million Americans have PAD, and experts estimate 200,000 of them (disproportionately from minority communities) suffer avoidable amputations, leading to premature disability and death.
Are you at risk of developing PAD?
Risk factors for PAD include diabetes, tobacco abuse, elevated cholesterol, hypertension and age over 65 years.
If you have several of these risk factors, you should talk to your primary care provider. Your doctor can perform a simple test, called an ABI, to screen for PAD if they suspect you might have it. Just knowing you have PAD is half the battle, since 50% of those diagnosed with PAD do not have symptoms. However, not experiencing symptoms does NOT mean you are free from the risk of heart attack or stroke.
The fact is, those who have PAD, with or without symptoms, suffer more cardiovascular deaths than those without PAD.
How do you treat PAD?
Thankfully, we can treat symptomatic PAD and also lessen the risk factors for developing it.
- Medicine can reduce cholesterol levels, as well as control diabetes and blood pressure.
- If you smoke, stop.
- Exercise is helpful, as well. Walking builds stronger legs. And more muscular legs help your ability to walk farther without having to stop.
- Finally, if your PAD is severe, which could result in an amputation, we have proven treatment methods as well as surgical options.
Ultimately, by increasing PAD awareness, improving access to screening and treatment, we can improve quality of life, reduce care costs, prevent limb amputations and save lives.
About Dr. John A. Phillips
John A. Phillips, MD is a cardiology and peripheral vascular interventionalist in Columbus, Ohio. He is affiliated with OhioHealth, Riverside Methodist Hospital and has been in practice there for 9 years. Dr. Phillips is the medical director for endovascular medicine and the clinical operations council chief for the heart and vascular service line at Riverside Methodist. He received his medical degree from Medical College of Wisconsin, with post-graduate training at Washington University in St. Louis, and The Ohio State University. Dr. Phillips speaks nationally and internationally on peripheral arterial disease, and has authored numerous papers in peer-reviewed journals pertaining to his specialty.