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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 6.5 million people age 40 or older have a serious but often ignored condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Just as clogged arteries around the heart can cause a heart attack or a clogged artery in the neck can lead to a stroke, PAD refers to blocked or narrowed arteries in other parts of the body that can be just as serious or life-threatening.
While PAD can occur in any blood vessel, it is most commonly seen in legs or arteries below the chest. Due to the location of most PAD blockages, the most common symptom is leg pain or cramping that occurs with physical activity but goes away after resting. PAD can also slow or prevent sores and wounds from healing on the feet, which can be another warning sign of a more serious health problem.
Unfortunately, PAD may go unnoticed by those who have it as they attribute the symptoms to aging or not being active, but PAD is a major warning sign that should not be ignored. The risk factors that lead to PAD are the same risk factors that lead to heart attacks and stroke. It stands to reason that if arteries are clogged in the legs, one can expect that similar blockages can and will occur in other parts of the body causing more serious harm or injury.
“PAD represents a spectrum of cardiovascular problems that often evades the patient by presenting with symptoms mimicking another condition or offering no warning signs at all. It evades medical providers as well since it frequently requires deliberate investigation in order to arrive at appropriate diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr. Wojciech Nowak, an interventional cardiologist and endovascular specialist with the SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute in the Denver area. “When untreated, PAD frequently results in progressive lifestyle limitations and may even lead to limb loss or mortality.”
Thankfully, PAD is more treatable today and patients can significantly reduce their risk factors with lifestyle changes. Just as physical activity, stopping smoking, and managing high blood pressure and cholesterol can reduce stroke and heart attack risks, these same measures can help prevent or reduce PAD.
If more serious interventions are needed, SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute physicians in Colorado and Montana work closely with a patient’s primary care provider to develop treatment plans that can range from noninvasive procedures to peripheral angioplasty and stenting when appropriate.
“A multidisciplinary approach to PAD treatment is frequently exercised whereby the patient's care includes the involvement of the primary care physician, podiatrist, PAD rehabilitation center team, and wound care specialist if needed,” said Dr. Nowak. “In case of need for invasive procedures, advanced testing modalities and coordination of care between interventional cardiology and vascular surgery specialists allow for delivery of personalized care with the best patient clinical outcome in mind.”