Peripheral arterial disease
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)--also known as peripheral artery disease--is a circulatory condition that commonly affects individuals with diabetes. In fact, about 1 out of every 3 people with diabetes over the age of 50 have PAD, according to the American Diabetes Association.
In short, when you have peripheral arterial disease, extremities do not receive adequate blood flow, causing any number of related complications.
Causes of peripheral arterial disease
PAD occurs when arteries are blocked by plaque, plaque that consists of cholesterol, fat and other substances. This buildup of plaque, called atherosclerosis, eventually hardens and restricts blood flow throughout the body. Although PAD commonly affects the extremities, it can also affect arteries that distribute blood to your kidneys, heart, head and stomach.
Peripheral arterial disease symptoms
Although some people may not experience symptoms, the most common symptoms include the following:
- Pain in the legs, especially during and after activity (e.g. walking, exercising)
- Numbness in the legs
- Discoloration of skin color on the legs
- Coldness in the extremities, especially the legs and feet
- Wounds or sores that won't heal on the feet or legs
- Skin on the leg appears to be shiny
Testing for peripheral arterial disease
There are several different tests your doctor can perform to diagnose PAD. These procedures can detect narrow vessels that slow down blood flow, or more severe blockages that severely restrict blood flow.
Ankle-brachial index. Compares the blood pressure between the arteries in the arm verses those in the ankle. If the blood pressure in the ankle artery is significantly lower than in the artery of the arm, PAD may be the reason for the discrepancy.
Angiogram. A dye visible by X-ray is injected into the blood vessels, which the doctor uses to track blood flow.
Ultrasound. This diagnostic test uses sound waves that penetrate the body. The way the sound waves bounce off the blood vessels is interpreted by a computer, which creates an image of the blood vessels on a monitor.
Peripheral arterial disease risk factors
According to the American Diabetes Association and the Mayo Clinic, these are the most common risk factors for PAD:
- High blood pressure (140/90 or higher)
- Age over 50 years
- Obesity (BMI over 30)
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Personal or family history of heart disease
It is important to note that individuals who have diabetes or who smoke face the greatest risk of developing PAD.
Tips for preventing peripheral arterial disease:
Better cholesterol management. The buildup of cholesterol and fat on the walls of blood vessels makes the possibility of narrowing vessels especially serious.
Reduce blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure levels can be addressed by medication, exercise and healthy eating habits.
Increase physical activity. Clinical studies prove that exercise both treats and prevents periphery arterial disease.
Stop smoking. Although challenging, quitting smoking is a necessary step to avoiding or reducing the complications associated with peripheral arterial disease.
Mayo Clinic, "Peripheral Arterial Disease"
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, "What Is Peripheral Arterial Disease?"