According to the Centers for Disease Control and Healogics, Inc, peripheral artery disease (PAD) affects as many as eight to 12 million people in the United States, and increases in prevalence with age. One in every eight Americans older than 60 years of age have PAD, but general awareness of this medical issue remains limited.
Because PAD usually affects the lower extremities, people may also be at risk for chronic or slow-healing wounds on their legs, ankles and feet. The reduced blood flow also sets the stage for increased infection, which can negatively impact wound healing and lead to severe complications.
What is Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)?
PAD develops when arteries become completely or partially blocked with plaque deposits that limit blood flow to legs. Just like clogged arteries in the heart, clogged arteries in the legs increase the risk of heart attack, stroke or even death. Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) in the legs does not always cause symptoms, so many people can have PAD and not know it. People who do experience symptoms, such as pain or cramping in the legs, often do not report them, believing they are a natural part of aging or due to another cause.
PAD Risk Factors
Common risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and age. Because it impacts so many people with diabetes, PAD is considered a primary co-morbidity of this disease.
Chronic toe and foot sores are common in people with PAD, as are cramping, numbness, weakness or heaviness in the leg muscles. Those who have any of the risk factors for PAD should ask their healthcare professional about PAD. A physician can check for signs of the disease with a simple test of pulses in the feet.
"While some with PAD do not experience symptoms, everyone should be aware of certain factors that put them more at risk," says Dr. George Barnes, Jr, medical director of the Advanced Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine Center at Centennial Hills Hospital. "Smokers are four times at greater risk, African Americans are three times as likely to have PAD, and one in every three people over the age of 50 with diabetes is likely to have the disease."
The Advanced Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine Centers of The Valley Health System recommend the following action steps to help manage PAD:
- Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, correcting blood pressure and cholesterol numbers
- 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.
- Medications — 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.
- Regular foot exams can identify any open sores early.
About Advanced Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Valley Health System Hospitals
Advanced wound care and hyperbaric medicine treatment is available these hospitals: