Peripheral Vascular Disease is a serious condition that often reveals itself through pain in the legs or other extremities. Often called Peripheral Artery Disease or Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), it is the result of arteriosclerosis, or restricted blood flow caused by a buildup of plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. When the flow of blood is limited, limbs, the heart and brain are deprived of the oxygen. Additionally, muscle cells in the wall of the artery overgrow and fat and calcium build up within these irregular spaces. Bleeding into the artery wall can also occur resulting in formation of a clot, which narrows the opening of the blood vessel even further.
A combination of testing and physical examination is used to diagnose PAD. It is possible that there are no symptoms but most people eventually diagnosed with the condition report pain in the legs while walking. Pain may also appear in the hips, thigh, buttock or calf. At first, the pain goes away when the patient is at rest but as PAD is more established, the pain persists. A burning or aching sensation in the legs while a person is lying flat that goes away when the person sits up is another symptom. Feet that become cold to the touch, loss of pulse in legs and feet, restricted mobility and loss of muscle also signal the condition. Impotence, thickened, opaque toenails and a reddish-blue discoloration of the extremities are signs, as well.
Who is susceptible to PAD?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports at 8.5 million Americans have Peripheral Artery Disease. It is indiscriminate between men and women but people of ethnicity have higher rates of PAD. Twelve- to twenty-percent of all people over the age of sixty are diagnosed with it and risk factors include diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Treatment can start with lifestyle changes such as achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking and getting regular exercise. Walking three times a week for thirty minutes is recommended. Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels and diabetes in control contribute, as well.
If lifestyle changes are not enough, Trental or Pletal that help blood flow may be prescribed. Aspirin or Plavix reduce the probability of blood clots and Statins help control cholesterol. These medications, combined with exercise and good lifestyle management, are often used to treat PAD.
Medical procedures for cases too advanced for medicine and lifestyle changes to solve the issue alone include the minimally invasive Angioplasty, Stenting, and Atherectomy. Under x-ray guidance, a catheter is directed towards the blockage in the leg. The procedure widens the opening of the blood vessel, so blood is able to flow freely through it. In some instances, a mesh-like metal tube called a stent may be placed within the artery to keep it open. A device may also be used that cleans out the inner lining of the artery, removing the plaque by shaving or vaporizing it away, which is called atherectomy. This is often an outpatient procedure allowing the patient to return home after a four-hour recovery-room stay.
Bypass surgery rerouting the blood through an unclogged graft is another treatment option. The graft can be a synthetic tube or one of the patient’s own veins. This is an operation that requires a hospital stay of up to five days. Depending upon the location and extent of blockage in the artery, an Endarterectomy that actually removes plaque from the artery may be the most effective treatment. A hospital stay of three to five days can be expected after an endarterectomy.
Chief among ways to help prevent Peripheral Vascular Disease is regular exercise. A consistent walking program, leg exercises and treadmill use all help prevent PAD. A regimen developed after consulting a physician or cardiologist is recommended. Controlling health factors such as weight and blood pressure also reduces the probability of PAD.
To learn more about Peripheral Vascular Disease and treatment, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.