When leg pain isn’t just leg pain

submitted by Dr. Shahzad Ahmed MD, FACC, FSCAI, RPVI, Interventional Cardiologist, Lower Bucks Hospital

Peripheral arterial disease is a common circulatory problem in which narrow arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs. Approximately 6.5 million people aged 40 and older in the United States have peripheral arterial disease.

When you develop peripheral arterial disease your legs or arm do not receive enough blood flow to keep up with the mind.  This may result in symptoms such as leg pain or discomfort with walking or at rest.

Peripheral arterial disease is usually a sign of build-up of fatty plaque in your arteries (atherosclerosis) resulting in decreased blood flow to the limbs.

Common risk factors for peripheral arterial disease are:

  • Smoking;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Diabetes mellitus;
  • High cholesterol;
  • Atherosclerosis (fatty plaque in arteries);
  • Age above 60 years.

Common symptoms of peripheral vascular disease include pain in the legs while walking, leg numbness or weakness, feeling cold in extremities, change in color or hair loss, and pain while using arms like while writing, exercise or doing manual tasks.

If you are experiencing any symptoms, seek consultation with your primary care doctor or vascular specialist to make sure that you are not suffering from peripheral arterial disease.

Even if you do not have symptoms you need to be screened for peripheral arterial disease if you are:

  • 65-years-old;
  • Over the age of 50 and have a history of diabetes or smoking;
  • Under the age of 50 and have diabetes with other risk factor for peripheral arterial disease, which include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

If you have symptoms of PAD or increased risk for PAD, your doctor may do an ankle brachial index (ABI) which is a non-invasive test that measures the blood pressure in ankles and compare it with the blood pressure in the arms and at rest and after exercise.  Your doctor may do an imaging test, such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), and computed tomographic angiography.

If you are diagnosed with peripheral arterial disease, your doctor may consider recommending aspirin or other similar antiplatelet medicine to prevent serious complications from the disease and associated atherosclerosis. 

You may also need to take medicine to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure. If you smoke, quit. 

Talk with your doctor to help to quit smoking.

You may need endovascular procedures or surgery to open up those blockages.

PHOTO CAP: Dr. Shahzad Ahmed MD, FACC, FSCAI, RPVI, Interventional Cardiologist

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