Do you experience leg pain when walking or climbing? This pain in your calf or buttock could be caused by peripheral arterial disease also called PAD.
This condition causes your muscles to cramp during activity because of reduced blood flow to your lower body. When the arteries to your heart narrow, it can lead to a heart attack. When the arteries to your brain narrow, it can lead to a stroke. The same thing can happen to the arteries of your arms and legs. Having diseased arteries in one area of the body often means that arteries in other areas of the body are narrow too. This is why people with peripheral artery disease are at a very high risk of heart attack and stroke.
In fact if you have this condition and it's not treated, your risk of death goes up about two and a half fold that of people who don't have PAD. That's why it's so important to tell your doctor so you can begin treatment.
In its early stages, peripheral artery disease has no symptoms. As it progresses, simple movements such as walking can be painful. Although resting relieves the pain, it will return once activity resumes. This pain cycle is called claudication and might be the first warning sign of peripheral arterial disease.
Many unhealthy habits and inherited conditions are risk factors that add to your chances of getting this disease, and once you have it, these inherited conditions can make it worse.
- Eating foods high in fat
- Lack of exercise
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Diagnosing Peripheral Arterial Disease
Once your doctor has heard about your symptoms of claudication, he or she may suspect peripheral arterial disease. Your physician will ask you about risk factors, as well as the distance you are able to walk, whether the pain is worse going uphill, and what you do to make the pain stop.
While examining you, your physician will check the circulation of your legs. In addition, artery pulses, nerve sensation and muscle strength may be tested, and your heart, lungs and abdomen will be examined.
Diagnosing PAD is fairly easy and consists of measuring the blood pressure in your arms with a Doppler stethoscope and comparing this with the blood pressure at your ankles, a test called the “ankle-brachial” or “ankle-arm index” (ABI). Other non-invasive tests may be done for diagnosis or to determine the severity of your condition.
Improving your condition
Once you have been diagnosed with peripheral arterial disease, your clinician may want to run tests to determine what stage you are in. Depending on the severity of your condition, certain medical procedures or even surgery may be recommended to improve the flow of blood. Getting regular exercise, reducing your risk factors and taking certain medications are also helpful before and after treatment.
Your doctor has several goals in mind for treatment:
- Prevent heart attack and stroke
- Prevent worsening of your disease and amputation
- Improve your walking speed, walking distance and quality of life