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Peripheral arterial disease 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 affects more than 12 million people in the United States and is why September is recognized as PAD Awareness Month.
Peripheral arterial disease increases in prevalence with age. One in every 8 Americans older than 60 years of age has PAD. Common risk factors include high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, inactivity, atherosclerosis and age. As many as 6 million people with diabetes have PAD, making it one of the primary co-morbidities of diabetes.
There are many possible side effects of atherosclerosis in the lower extremities, including claudication, non-healing leg ulcers and critical limb ischemia. Chronic toe and foot sores are common in people with PAD, as are cramping, numbness, weakness or heaviness in the leg muscles. Many patients with PAD do not experience symptoms.
“While some with PAD do not experience symptoms, people should be aware of certain factors that put them more at risk,” said D. Scott Covington, MD, FACS, CHWS, chief medical officer for Healogics, Inc., the nation’s largest provider of advanced wound care services. “Smokers are four times at greater risk, African-Americans are more than twice as likely to have PAD, and one in every three people over the age of 50 with diabetes is likely to have the disease.”
The Wilson Wound Healing Center recommends the following action steps to help manage PAD:
• Make lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, correcting blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.
• Develop 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.
• Always consult with a physician about which medications may help PAD and if they are needed.
• 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.
For more information, contact the Wilson Wound Healing Center at 1701 Medical Park Drive or 252-399-5302.
Laura Duke, LPN, MBA, is the program director of Wilson Wound Healing Center.