Peripheral artery disease: Symptoms to look for, treatment options

Photo credit: American Heart Association

MARQUETTE — Typical lower body pain such as cramping, pain or tiredness in the leg or hip muscles has the potential to be a greater complication than normal muscle aches.

Such symptoms are typically the early signs of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which is a narrowing of the peripheral arteries to the legs, stomach, arms or head — most commonly in the arteries of the legs.

“The most critical issue is that it’s a marker for other types of cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Kristofer Dosh of UP Health System — Marquette. “Once people are diagnosed with PAD, they very commonly have diseases in other vascular beds, whether it be the heart or the brain, so they’re at-risk for heart attacks and strokes.”

PAD can be difficult to diagnose due to its symptoms overlapping with other medical issues, such as certain types of lower spine diseases that cause similar issues to the legs. PAD can often go undiagnosed by healthcare professionals.

Dr. Kristofer Dosh

“Part of the problem is the symptoms can be relatively vague, and if they’re not real classic claudication, where a person is cramping after walking a set distance, the patient or primary care provider won’t realize that this might be PAD,” Dr. Dosh said, “and it could take some time for people to determine that it actually was PAD.”

PAD can affect a person’s overall lifestyle, with some people suffering from the disease reporting to have difficulty walking a half block before having to stop due to the cramping of the calves. But early detection is vital for the patient since medications can help slow the progression of the throughout the vascular system. Aspirin and other medications can help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

“If they’re having that severity level of symptoms, if we go in and find a blockage that we can fix in the legs, they walk out of the hospital feeling better immediately,” Dr. Dosh said. “Those who come in and have a cold foot or constant resting pain are people who if we don’t do anything may require amputation. We can often spare them from amputation if we get to it soon enough.”

Certain people are at a higher risk for PAD, such as people who smoke, are diabetic or have high blood pressure. The risk also increases with age.

“Diet and exercise are important,” Dr. Dosh said about combating PAD. “If people are diabetic, diet control and compliance with their medication regimen are critical. Uncontrolled diabetes almost always leads to PAD or other forms of vascular disease. Lipids control is also important, but the two most common offenders are diabetes and smoking.”
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For more information about PAD, call 906-225-3870, or click here to visit the UP Health System — Marquette Heart and Vascular website.

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