The circulation problem you shouldn’t ignore

Catching early signs of peripheral artery disease can lower cardiovascular risks

Some people have more aches and pains with age. But it’s a mistake for older adults (or anyone else) to think pain is normal, especially if it interferes with basic activities of daily living, like walking. Yet, such thinking is common with the cardiovascular condition known as peripheral artery disease, or PAD.

What is peripheral artery disease? PAD is essentially a blockage of blood supply outside the heart. The heart is central, so these other areas are called peripheral. Obstructions or deficiencies in the peripheral vasculature most commonly occur in the lower extremities, usually due to plaques from atherosclerosis that narrow or block vessels carrying blood to the legs.

Who tends to get it? Being older than 60 is a factor – but just one of many. Other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Blood vessels become less pliable as we get older, which makes them more prone to damage from other risk factors.

What are signs to watch for? Pain in the legs, thighs, calves, or buttocks,  especially as you walk. Other symptoms include weakness; hair loss on the legs; shiny or cooler skin; numbness or loss of sensation in toes; lack of pulse in the feet; and wounds, sores or ulcers that don’t heal.

What can be done about PAD? Minimize risks by exercising, not smoking and controlling blood sugar and cholesterol. A cardiologist or a wound care specialist can diagnose PAD with noninvasive tests like a blood pressure measure called the ankle brachial index, ultrasound and MRI and CT scans. Blockages usually can be fixed with a catheter-based procedure called balloon angioplasty and stent.

The Lower Bucks Hospital Wound Center can speed healing of difficult wounds with care from a range of clinicians including interventional cardiologists and radiologists, vascular surgeons, podiatrists, and nurses.

What’s the most important thing for people to know about PAD? Don’t ignore symptoms. Waiting until you develop a debilitating condition or a nonhealing wound to seek care can lead to amputation and even increase your risk of dying. If you have PAD, you may also be at risk of coronary blockages that could cause a heart attack. Lower Bucks Hospital’s specialists can diagnose PAD easily, and most cases can be resolved with a minimally invasive same-day procedure.

PHOTO CAP: Whoever your heart beats for, our hearts beat for you. Call BMC Cardiology Practice at 215-785-5100, to schedule an appointment with Cardiologist Dr. Shahzad Ahmed.

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