Dr. Matthew A. Hook of North Carolina Heart and Vascular and a member of the Johnston Health medical staff recently gave a presentation on peripheral artery disease (PAD). This was part of Johnston Health’s series of Health Chats that feature a new topic and doctor each time. During this chat, Dr. Hook focused on the symptoms and treatments of PAD.
PAD is most common in the legs and is due to a narrowing or hardening of the peripheral arteries. When there are clogged arteries in the legs, most likely there are more elsewhere in the body. Those with PAD are four to five times more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke.
Here are some symptoms of peripheral artery disease:
- Cramping or discomfort in feet, calves, or thighs
- Leg or hip muscle pain during physical activity which goes away with rest
- Burning sensation in legs
- Legs cool to touch
- Legs may feel numb when at rest
- Skin may look pale, shiny, or tight
- Loss of hair on legs
- Foot wounds that do not heal
- Thick toenails
One of the main ways Dr. Hook tests for PAD is an ankle-brachial index. This is a painless exam that compares the blood pressure of the feet to the blood pressure in the arms. By doing this he is able to determine how well the blood is flowing. If the numbers do not match then additional testing may be required. The other tests allow the doctor to take pictures of arteries in the abdomen, pelvis, arms and legs.
Peripheral artery disease commonly affects men over the age of 50 but not always. Those with a history of the following have a higher risk:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Kidney disease involving hemodialysis
- Abnormal lower extremity pulse
- Weight over 30% your ideal
- Family history
Treatment for peripheral artery disease consists of managing symptoms and stopping the progression of arteries hardening. Doing so will greatly improve your chances of avoiding a heart attack and stroke. If you smoke, quitting is the single most important thing that can help reduce your complications. These goals are possible with simple lifestyle changes and prescribed medicine. For more severe cases, surgery and minimally invasive treatments may be necessary.
If you are having any kind of recurring leg pain, talk to us and describe the pain as accurately as you can. If you have any risk factors, ask your physician about PAD even if you are not having symptoms.