Peripheral arterial disease (P.A.D.) is a condition in which plaque accumulates in the arteries responsible for carrying blood to your organs, head and limbs. Plaque is comprised of cholesterol, fat, fibrous tissues, calcium, and other substances found in blood.
Atherosclerosis occurs as plaque builds up in the arteries. This plaque can harden over time, narrowing the arteries and restricting the movement of oxygenated blood to your head, organs, and limbs.
In most patients, P.A.D. affects the arteries in the lower extremities. It can affect patient's arteries that move blood from the kidneys, head, stomach and arms, but this article deals with P.A.D. in relation to the legs.
Pain and numbness of the legs is one result of restricted blood flow, another is an increased risk for infection of the legs. An ancillary risk is the difficulty your body may face in fighting off the infection if it occurs.
If the condition is severe, restricted blood flow can cause gangrene and tissue death. In the most extreme cases, gangrene can result in the amputation of the leg.
If you have pain in the legs when you climb stairs or even just walk, be sure to consult with your doctor. Older patients may believe that aching legs are just symptomatic of age, but the pain could be being caused by P.A.D. Discuss the pain in your lower extremities with your physician, and ask if a test for P.A.D. is right for you.
The main risk factor for P.A.D. is smoking. Smokers or those who have smoked in the past face a four times higher risk for P.A.D. than other patients. Increased age and other medical conditions are also P.A.D. risk factors to be aware of.
P.A.D. increases your risk factor for heart attack, stroke, transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), and coronary heart/artery disease (C.H.D.). Patients suffering from C.H.D. have a 30% chance of suffering from blocked arteries in the legs.
Serious as P.A.D. is, it is manageable. Seeing your doctor regularly and treating the atherosclerosis are the first steps in treatment.
Treating P.A.D. can reduce the disease in progress and even halt it and any related complications. Medicine, lifestyle changes and surgery procedures are all P.A.D. treatments available, and researchers are still looking into new P.A.D. therapies.