PAD, or peripheral artery disease, affects about 8 million Americans. It can start as early as the age of 20, and becomes more common as one gets older. By age 65, about 12 to 20 percent of the population has some degree of vascular disease. Early diagnosis is critical, as people with PAD have a four to five times higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Unfortunately, PAD often goes undiagnosed as symptoms are often mistaken for something else.
So how do you know if you’re at risk for PAD? “Unfortunately, with PAD, sometimes there are factors that the patient can control and sometimes not. Sometimes it runs in the family and your risk factors are genetic,” said Dr. Jeffrey Elbich. “Other risk factors include advanced age, male gender, smoking, especially those with a long smoking history, and people with other medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension.”
Dr. Elbich explained some symptoms to watch out for. “A typical patient will describe walking for a few block and being affected by sudden painful cramps in the legs and thighs that resolve after a period of rest.” He continued, “For every one person who has symptoms, there are three to four who have no symptoms at all. If you have some of the risk factors we just mentioned, it’s important to talk to your doctor and be screened.”
The screening involves a review of the patient’s medical history and any symptoms, followed by a physical exam. “You physician will preform an ABI, or ankle brachial index which measures the blood pressure in your arms, compared to the blood pressure in your ankles,” said Dr. Elbich. “If it’s significantly different, that indicates a blockage in your legs and is indicative of PAD.”
Many peripheral vascular conditions can be diagnosed and treated on an outpatient basis by the interventional radiologists and vascular surgeons here at VCU Baird Vascular Institute. If you want to learn more about peripheral artery disease and treatment options, wish to discuss symptoms or problems you may be experiencing or if your doctor has recommended that you see us for a vascular test, please contact us at (804) 828-2600.