Could I be at risk for PAD?

Baird PAD risk

Vascular diseases range from diseases of the arteries, veins and lymph vessels to blood disorders that affect circulation. Among the most common types of vascular disease are peripheral vascular disease (PVD), peripheral artery disease (PAD) and coronary artery disease. The terms peripheral vascular disease and peripheral artery disease are often used interchangeably, but we discuss both here. Many of the problems we diagnose and treat involve peripheral vascular disease in one degree or another.

The most common type of peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is peripheral artery disease (PAD). Like the blood vessels of the heart (coronary arteries), your peripheral arteries (blood vessels outside the heart) also may develop atherosclerosis. Over time, the plaque buildup narrows the artery, causing increased pressure in the blood vessel. Eventually, the inside of the artery narrows so much that it restricts blood flow and less oxygen is delivered to the tissues, causing a condition called ischemia, an inadequate supply of blood that causes tissue damage.

If a fragment of this plaque from any part of the body breaks loose and clogs one of the arteries supplying the heart itself, the result is a heart attack. If a fragment breaks and blocks an artery going to the brain, a stroke will result. Narrowing of the arteries that supply the kidneys with blood can cause high blood pressure and kidney failure. Any tissue that does not have an adequate supply of blood and oxygen will, over time, become permanently damaged and die. That it is critical to diagnose and treat peripheral vascular diseases before it becomes a more serious problem.

In the early stages of PAD, symptoms include cramping and pain in the legs and buttocks, indicating poor circulation in the legs. Other common symptoms include fatigue, heaviness and discomfort during exercise or activity. These symptoms generally go away when the activity stops or you are resting. This is called “intermittent claudication.”

PAD affects about 8 million Americans. Atherosclerosis 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. The exact cause is unknown, but several risk factors are known to accelerate the formation of fatty deposits, or plaque, in the arteries:

  • Smoking
  • Family history of vascular disease, angina, heart attacks or stroke
  • Being overweight
  • An unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Diabetes
  • Being male
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Stress

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.

If you want to learn more about peripheral vascular disease (PVD) 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 or email us.

Why you should talk to your doctor about PAD

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.