Peripheral artery disease (P.A.D.) is a common circulatory problem, where narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs. P.A.D. is more common in African-Americans than any other group. This may be because some of the conditions which increase the risk of developing P.A.D., such as diabetes and high blood pressure, are very common among African-Americans.
“P.A.D. occurs when extra cholesterol and other fats circulating in the blood collect in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your limbs. This buildup—called plaque—narrows your arteries, often reducing or blocking the flow of blood… P.A.D. is most commonly seen in the legs, but also can be present in the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your head, arms, kidneys and stomach.”
For an illustration of a normal and affected artery click here.
So, what causes P.A.D?
While the cause of plaque buildup in the limbs are unknown for most individuals, there are a few factors which increase your chance of developing P.A.D. These include:
- Being African-American – you are twice as likely to have P.A.D.
- Being over 50 years of age.
- Smoking – there is a 4 times greater risk of P.A.D.
- Having diabetes – 1 in 3 people above the age of 50 with diabetes are likely to have P.A.D.
- Having high blood pressure – African-Americans tend to have higher blood pressure levels.
- Having high blood cholesterol - African-Americans tend to have higher cholesterol levels.
- Having a history of vascular disease, heart attack, or stroke.
So, what should you be on the look out for?
One thing to look out for is heaviness, tiredness, or cramping in your leg muscles during activity such as walking. This pain may go away when you stop and rest. You should also look out for sores or wounds on your legs or feet which seem to heal very slowly. And, for poor nail growth and decreased hair growth on toes and legs, as this may also be a sign. If you notice any color changes in the skin of your feet, or a lower temperature in one leg, you should consult your doctor for advice.
It is also possible to experience no symptoms at all with P.A.D., so do talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
What can you do to treat P.A.D.?
The treatment for P.A.D. focuses mainly on reducing your symptoms and preventing any further progression of the disease. So, in most cases healthy lifestyle changes will be enough, although sometimes medication is also required.
Here are a few tips:
- Take regular exercise – this is the most effective treatment for P.A.D. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days of the week.
- Quit smoking - tobacco smoke increases your risk for P.A.D., and your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Lower your numbers – if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood glucose levels try to maintain these numbers within the recommended “normal” ranges. Also, if you are overweight work with your doctor or registered dietitian to sort out a suitable plan to help you lose weight too.
- Eat healthy foods – this means choosing food close to their natural form as much as possible, and trying to stay away from fatty foods, particularly trans fats, as much as possible. You should also try to include plenty of fish, fruits, and vegetables in your diet regularly.
- Take medication as prescribed – your doctor may prescribe meds to help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, or to help maintain your blood sugar levels.