Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), sometimes referred to as “hardening of the arteries,” is a common circulatory problem in which arteries narrowed by the buildup of arterial plaque reduce blood flow to your extremities. Although PAD can affect your arms, it is most commonly found in the legs. PAD affects men and women equally, although African-Americans and Hispanics have a higher degree of risk than Caucasians. Approximately 8 million people in the US have PAD, including 12-20% of all people over the age of 60.

What are the symptoms and causes of PAD?

Phoenix cardiologists describe common symptoms of PAD as including pain or cramping in the legs after walking or climbing stairs, numbness or weakness in the legs, coldness in the legs, feet, or toes, sores or color changes on the legs, hair loss or shiny skin developing on your legs and feet, weaker leg pulse, and erectile dysfunction in men. However, you can have PAD and display none of these symptoms.

The primary cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty plaque on the interior walls of the arteries. Significant risk factors for PAD include smoking (which increases your risk 2-4 times), diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure (over 140/90), aging, and a family history of heart disease or stroke. PAD is a serious disease, because left untreated it can cause critical limb ischemia (open sores that don’t heal, sometimes developing into gangrene and requiring amputation), stroke, and heart attack.

How do I know if I have Peripheral Arterial Disease? How is it diagnosed?

PAD can be detected by your Phoenix cardiologist as the result of a physical examination in which weak or absent pulses are found in your extremities, and also using the ankle-brachial index, a specialized blood pressure test in which blood pressure in your arm is compared to blood pressure in your ankle. The doctor may also use other non-invasive procedures such as Doppler ultrasound (to analyze actual blood flow to pinpoint blockages or narrowed arteries), specialized blood tests, and angiography.

How is PAD treated?

Treatment of Peripheral Arterial Disease has two goals – to manage symptoms, and to stop the progression of atherosclerosis to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. In some cases, this can be accomplished by lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, weight loss, and regular exercise. In other cases, medications can be used to lower cholesterol levels, lower high blood pressure, control blood sugar, prevent blood clots, and relieve extreme symptoms.

If the PAD has progressed to a point at which even more extensive treatment is needed, the experienced doctors at Comprehensive Interventional Care Centers can also perform endovascular treatments such as lower extremity angioplasty and stenting, atherectomy, mesenteric angioplasty and stenting, carotid angiography, carotid stenting, and endovascular abdominal aortic aneurysm repair to treat severely damaged arteries.

So if you have a family history of atherosclerosis or heart disease, if you have noticed any of the symptoms discussed earlier, or if you have increased risk factors for developing PAD, give the best heart doctors in Phoenix a call. We can set up an appointment to determine the exact state of your heart health.

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