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What is Peripheral Arterial Disease and How Is It Treated?


Plaque build-up in the arteries can lead to peripheral arterial disease, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available. 

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a serious vascular disorder that may lead to a heart attack or stroke if left untreated. Caused by atherosclerosis — a build-up of fat and cholesterol in the arteries — PAD usually appears in the legs.

Smoking ranks as the top risk factor for PAD. Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and a family history of PAD can also increase your chances of developing the disease. PAD is seen more often in older patients, with 12% to 20% of people over the age of 60 affected by the condition.

Many people with PAD experience no significant symptoms, or they mistake their discomfort for a normal part of aging. Yet even the smallest signs of PAD shouldn’t be ignored, as being proactive about diagnosis and treatment will lead to the best outcomes.

PAD Symptoms

As PAD progresses, plaque restricts blood flow in the veins and arteries of the leg, often resulting in pain when walking or climbing stairs. Other PAD indicators include numbness in the legs, cold feet, shiny or discolored skin on the legs, and slow-healing sores. In more advanced cases of PAD, you may experience leg pain even when sitting or lying down.

To diagnose PAD, a doctor will examine you for symptoms like open wounds or a weak pulse in the arteries. An ankle-brachial index also reads blood pressure in the limbs. CT scans, ultrasound imaging, and MRIs provide a snapshot of blood flow through the veins and arteries and can detect any blockages. Blood tests further confirm if you’re suffering from a chronic condition like high blood pressure or diabetes that has a strong link to PAD.

A vascular specialist may also perform an angiography to diagnose and treat PAD. After a dye is injected into the artery, the physician is able to spot where the artery is blocked with the use of an X-ray or other imaging techniques. Once the blockage is found, a tiny balloon is inserted through a catheter to enlarge the artery, allowing blood to flow more freely. Medication that boosts blood flow may also be injected into the artery.

Treating Peripheral Arterial Disease

PAD patients have several options to choose from when treating their condition. Most involve lifestyle changes and medication, but surgery may be recommended in some cases. The following options have been shown to lessen symptoms and slow the progression of the disease:

1. Stop Smoking. The harmful additives of cigarettes damage blood vessels and are a major contributor to the development of PAD. But quitting smoking lessens that risk, and patients with PAD should be able to reduce their symptoms if they throw away their cigarettes.

2. Exercise. Because PAD causes leg pain, you should consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program. In general, walking or low-impact leg exercises can reduce pain.

3. Manage Chronic Conditions with Medication. PAD patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes can control those conditions with medication. Because PAD is associated with a higher risk of blood clots, your doctor may also recommend taking a blood thinner. To alleviate leg pain, medications such as cilostazol and pentoxifylline may be prescribed.

4. Eat Healthy. In addition to medication, PAD patients with hypertension and high cholesterol can manage these conditions with diet. Try to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible, and cut down on saturated fats.

5. Surgery. In some cases, surgical intervention can remove the blockage and restore full blood flow to the artery. Several techniques are available, including an angiography that widens the artery and maintains proper blood flow with the placement of a stent. Other surgeries for PAD include bypass grafting that uses a blood vessel from another part of the body or a synthetic tube to divert blood flow around the blocked artery. During an atherectomy, a small instrument is used to break apart the blockage. 

We Specialize in Treating Vascular Disorders

At Siragusa Vein & Laser, we treat many vascular disorders, including PAD. If you’re suffering from PAD, we can diagnose your condition and recommend treatment options ranging from monitored exercise and smoking cessation programs to surgery. Contact us today to set up a consultation.


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