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Published on July 31, 2017

illustration showing arteriosclerosis

Fight Back Against PAD with Prevention and Early Diagnosis

Similar to what happens with heart disease, a build-up of fats and cholesterol can block the hard-working arteries that take blood to our legs.

It’s known as peripheral artery disease (PAD), and it can lead to pain and even the loss of a limb. But prevention and early diagnosis are important ways to fight back and reduce your risk.

“The steps of prevention require work, but those steps are much more preferable compared to the potentially complications of PAD can lead to, said North Central Hearth Vascular Surgeon Dustin Weiss, MD. “The most common signs of PAD are cramping, pain or fatigue, especially in leg and thigh muscles. Many patients feel it most when they are climbing stairs,”

There’s nothing you can do about age, which is a leading risk factor for PAD. But you can control other risk factors by stopping smoking, taking steps to reduce your blood pressure and managing your diabetes, if you have it.

PAD sufferers do have higher risks of coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke, Weiss said. Diagnosing it is straightforward, and treatments can range from medications to balloon angioplasty and surgery.

Yet following the recommendations of your doctor can make managing PAD easier.

“Lifestyle changes and an early diagnosis can work together to reduce the dangerous aspects of PAD, but it does require effort and collaboration between patient and physician,” Weiss said. “Atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup, is often one of the causes of this arterial disease. The plaque builds up in the arterial wall and causes narrowing. To reduce plaque buildup, we encourage patients to get more exercise, especially walking, and to revise their diets to avoid foods high in bad fats that promote higher levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood.”

In some cases, people with PAD may have a blood clot form in their leg or other extremity, and that clot can dislodge and completely block the flow of blood. Changes in skin color, sores or ulcers and difficulty walking all can be signs of this condition worsening. In extremes, it can lead to gangrene of the legs and feet and in some cases, amputation. Clots that dislodge and block the carotid artery can lead to stroke.

“Many people may have some symptoms but not realize what they face in PAD, and that’s why collaborating with your physician is the best way to approach this or any heart-disease related condition,” said Weiss. “With early diagnosis and treatment, we can increase the likelihood of recovery and steer you away from its worst possible outcomes, including stroke.”

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