Patients often ask us, as peripheral arterial disease specialists, whether they can die as a result of their PAD. The answer to this question is “Yes, very definitely, but probably not as a direct result of your disease.”
We have to qualify this answer because the question is misleading. PAD is not likely to ever appear on a person’s death certificate as the cause of death. But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t contribute to that death.
Just as it is important to pay attention to warning signs on the road when you are traveling, it’s important to pay attention to warning signs that might indicate you have peripheral artery disease.
PAD is a warning sign that you have a high risk of death from related causes
Peripheral arterial disease occurs when a sticky substance called plaque builds up on the walls of your arteries. This buildup, called atherosclerosis, narrows the arteries and makes it harder for your heart to pump blood through them to your legs and feet. Without proper blood flow, your lower limbs can quickly become damaged. Poor circulation due to PAD leads to foot and leg pain (claudication), or wounds and open sores that refuse to heal. This is because they’re not getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal.
But that’s just the first warning sign of a much more serious condition, called critical limb ischemia. The tissues can become so damaged that they develop gangrene. This is a type of tissue death that causes the skin to become reddened or black, and can lead to amputation. It can also cause osteomyelitis (bone infection) or sepsis (a form of infection in which the body starts attacking its own tissues and organs). Both conditions are life-threatening, and yes, can result in death.
PAD in the legs can also indicate dangerous blockages in other arteries
Peripheral artery disease in the lower body is often a warning sign. There can be a similar buildup of plaque in other arteries, such as the ones that supply the heart or the brain. If these arteries become blocked, the result can be a heart attack or a stroke.
Some studies suggest that 60% of patients with peripheral artery disease will develop ischemic heart disease, and that 30% have cerebrovascular disease. As many as 10-15% of patients with intermittent claudication (leg pain) from PAD will die from cardiovascular disease within five years of their initial diagnosis.
Other studies have shown that among patients diagnosed with peripheral arterial disease, 10% suffered a subsequent stroke, and another 10% suffered a subsequent heart attack. Patients who had other related diseases (such as diabetes) were at the highest risk of death.
The Bottom Line
The “bad news” is that peripheral arterial disease IS dangerous. It can even be potentially life-threatening. Especially if it is not diagnosed and treated early.
The “good news” is that PAD can be diagnosed quickly, easily, and painlessly. And if it’s present, it can be treated effectively to lower your risk of more serious symptoms or death. Less severe cases of PAD often respond to natural treatment. This involves changes to your diet, exercise patterns, and lifestyle choices (such as quitting smoking). More severe cases can be treated using minimally-invasive interventional radiology procedures such as angioplasty, stent placement, or atherectomy.
At Comprehensive Interventional Care Centers, we screen all of our patients for these more serious problems when we see that they have PAD in the legs. We then use our expertise as the best interventional radiology specialists in Phoenix to eliminate the problems, and make sure they don’t become life-threatening. So if you’ve been diagnosed with PAD – or even suspect that you may have it – give us a call at 888-377-7122 or make an appointment online on our website. We’re happy to help.