What is peripheral artery disease (PAD)?
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the head, internal organs and limbs. Plaque is made up of fat, calcium, cholesterol and other substances found in the blood, and when it accumulates in the arteries, it can harden the vessel and limit the blood flow—a condition called arteriosclerosis.
People with PAD have a dramatically increased risk for heart attack. The disease can also impair your overall physical health and, if arteries to the legs are affected, your ability to walk.
What causes PAD?
The most common cause of peripheral artery disease is arteriosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that results from a buildup of plaque. Arteriosclerosis can also affect coronary arteries, resulting in coronary artery disease. When it affects the arteries that deliver blood from the heart to the head, internal organs and limbs, it causes peripheral artery disease.
What are the symptoms of PAD?
Many people who have PAD experience no symptoms of the disease; for others, early symptoms include pain when walking or climbing stairs that goes away with rest. Other symptoms may include:
- Pain or cramping in your legs, thighs, calves or feet
- A weak or absent pulse in your legs or feet
- Sores or wounds on your toes, feet or legs that heal slowly, poorly or not at all
- Color changes in your skin, paleness or blueness (called cyanosis)
- Decreased temperature in one leg compared to the other leg
- Poor nail growth and decreased hair growth on your toes and legs
- Erectile dysfunction, especially if you have diabetes
How is PAD diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing PAD is a physical exam, where your doctor will check for:
- A "whooshing" sound heard through a stethoscope placed over the artery (arterial bruits)
- Decreased blood pressure in the affected limb(s)
- Loss of hair on the legs or feet
- Weak or absent pulses in the affected limb(s)
Depending on the results of your physical exam, your doctor may want to perform one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
- Blood pressure measured in the arms and legs for comparison (ankle/brachial index, or ABI)
- Angiography of the arteries in the affected limb (arteriography)
- Doppler ultrasound exam of the affected limb
- Magnetic resonance angiogram or CT coronary angiogram
How is PAD treated?
Depending on the severity of the disease, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet and participating in a supervised exercise program
- Medications that can:
- Lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure
- Thin the blood to prevent clots from forming
- Dissolve blood clots
- Relieve pain in the limbs
- Bypass grafting surgery or angioplasty to restore blood flow
For more information about Methodist DeBakey Cardiology Associates or to make an appointment, please call us at 713-441-1100 or 888-361-4375, or contact us online.