Your body relies on a healthy blood flow to provide oxygen and nutrients cells need in order to perform their respective functions.
When a condition like peripheral arterial disease (PAD) negatively affects your circulation, it can lead to—or, at the very least, contribute to—a variety of possible issues and medical complications, some of which are serious to the point of being life-threatening.
Fortunately, making the right lifestyle choices plays a big role in keeping this from happening to you.
One of the tools we have to help in diagnosing the condition is PADnet. This particular diagnostic tool is both noninvasive and accurate, which means we are able to receive valuable information without needing to cut or insert anything into the body.
(Note: Whereas we discuss PADnet in conjunction with arterial disease, it can also be used for venous vascular conditions as well.)
The data we receive from this diagnostic tool is recorded via an air-cuff based method. Specifically, captured metrics include Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI), Toe-Brachial Index (TBI), Segmental Pressure values, and Pulse volume Recording (PVR) waveforms.
Early detection for PAD can help to drastically lower the risk of severe medical emergencies (including life-threatening ones), so it is important to know about this condition and seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as you become aware of an issue.
The primary cause of PAD is a condition known as atherosclerosis. In this condition, plaques (fatty deposits) have built up along artery walls and are reducing blood flow.
Often, it is the heart that is discussed as being the focus of atherosclerosis (and rightfully so), but this issue does affect arteries throughout the entire body. And when the arteries responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to the limbs are affected, it is known as peripheral arterial disease.
That said, not all cases stem from that particular root cause. Some cases of PAD develop in response to limb injury, blood vessel inflammation, radiation exposure, or even unusual anatomy of someone’s ligaments, muscles, or other body tissue.
Some of the risk factors for PAD include:
- Diabetes – This is one of the two biggest risk factors of developing peripheral arterial disease.
- Smoking – Smoking is the other of those two risk factors. This habit constricts blood vessels and reduces circulation to the limbs.
- Obesity – Having a body mass index (BMI) over 30 places a patient at greater risk of developing PAD than individuals whose MBI is lower.
- High blood pressure – A blood pressure greater than 140/90 is a “red flag” for PAD.
- High cholesterol – Individuals who have a total blood cholesterol level greater than 240 milligrams per deciliter are also more likely to have circulation issues.
If any of these situations apply to you, the odds of developing the condition are heightened, and this is something you need to be aware of so you can make the necessary changes to lower your risk.
Unfortunately, many individuals who are afflicted with PAD—approximately 50 percent—have either mild symptoms or do not show any signs at all. This contributes to making this condition a substantially underdiagnosed condition.
For those who do display symptoms, they may experience such issues as:
- Intermittent claudication, which is a painful cramping in the calf, thigh, or hip muscles following physical activities like walking or going up stairs
- Coldness in either a foot or lower leg, particularly if this is not experienced in the other foot or leg
- Leg weakness or numbness
- Sores that do not heal (or take longer than a normal time to do so)
- Slow hair growth, hair loss, or change of color in the legs
- Slow toenail growth
- Either a weak or nonexistent pulse in feet or legs
Critical limb ischemia (CLI) is a chronic condition related to PAD that is marked by severe blockage in the lower extremities’ arteries. This can greatly reduce blood flow and lead to infections, injuries, and sores that do not heal properly. CLI can lead to gangrene (tissue death) and may ultimately require an amputation of an affected limb.
The symptoms of atherosclerosis experienced in your feet and legs can be a warning sign of arterial blockage that could lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The main goals of treatment when it comes to peripheral arterial disease is to stop the progression of atherosclerosis and manage present symptoms.
Lifestyle changes and home remedies for PAD can be a starting point and entail:
- Quitting smoking. The importance of this cannot be emphasized, especially as it relates to poor circulation. Only two hours after a cigarette, blood circulation starts improving.
- Regular exercise. Physical activity conditions muscles to more efficiently absorb and use oxygen, while at the same time promoting healthy blood flow levels.
- Eating a proper diet. Basing a diet around heart-healthy, low-fat foods is a good starting point for managing cholesterol, blood pressure, and shedding excess weight.
One of the major tools of peripheral artery disease treatment is medication. This includes medications used to:
- Lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Drugs called statins are able to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. We may use this kind of medication to lower “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), and especially if diabetes, smoking, and other stroke and heart attack risk factors are present.
- Control blood sugar. Diabetes and PAD can be a dangerous combination, so it is especially important to manage glucose (blood sugar) levels if you are diabetic.
- Prevent blood clots. Medication might be prescribed to help improve blood flow throughout the limbs, but it can also be used to prevent the risk of a blood clot developing and further limiting circulation.
In addition to medication, angioplasty and surgery are other treatment options. Angioplasty is a procedure wherein a catheter (small, hollow tube) is used to reopen an affected artery with a small balloon attached to the tip. This both increases blood flow by stretching the artery open and flattens the blockage into the arterial wall.
Surgical procedures for PAD are sometimes used to bypass a narrowed or block artery with the use of either a synthetic blood vessel or a vessel taken from another part of the body.
Preventing peripheral arterial disease and its associated symptoms is best done through the use of healthy lifestyle choices. Quitting smoking, eating healthy foods that are low in saturated fats, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy bodyweight are the rights steps for reducing the risk of PAD. For those who have diabetes, be sure to keep your glucose levels in a normal range.
If you require further information, or need to schedule an appointment for diagnosis and treatment, contact Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists by calling (512) 328-8900 or connecting with us online today.