Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a condition that develops when the arteries that supply blood to the internal organs, arms and legs become completely or partially blocked as a result of atherosclerosis. There are many possible side effects of atherosclerosis including angina and heart attacks if the coronary arteries are involved; strokes and transient ischemic attacks if the carotid and vertebral arteries are involved; and claudication, non-healing leg ulcers and critical limb ischemia if the lower extremity arteries are involved.
One in every 20 Americans older than 50 years of age have PAD. In all, PAD affects eight to 12 million people in the United States. Slightly more men than women have the disease. Common risk factors include high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, atherosclerosis and age. An estimated one out of every three people with diabetes over the age of 50 has PAD, making it one of the primary co-morbidities of diabetes. Due to the prevalence of PAD, September was named Peripheral Arterial Disease Awareness Month by the US Senate in 2007.
Healthcare professionals use many avenues for diagnosing PAD such as medical history, tobacco use, physical exams and diagnostic tests. An ankle-brachial index (ABI) test may be performed, as well. An ABI test is painless and easy, and involves a comparison between a blood pressure reading in the ankles and a blood pressure reading in the arms. An ABI can help diagnose PAD, but it cannot identify which arteries are narrowed or blocked. A Doppler ultrasound test may be done to see which artery or arteries are blocked.
PAD poses particular problems for health care professionals and patients with chronic wounds. 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. That’s why the Methodist Wound Treatment Center performs tests for PAD, treats chronic wounds which may have underlying conditions of PAD and counsels patients on how to manage PAD.
The Methodist Wound Treatment Center recommends the following action steps to help manage PAD:
- Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, correcting blood pressure and cholesterol numbers
- Smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are major risk factors for the development of PAD. Managing these conditions can help improve blood circulation.
- 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.
- Special procedures and surgeries
- 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 Methodist Wound Treatment Center, 160A West Tennessee Ave., Oak Ridge, (865) 835-3740.