PERIPHERAL ARTERY DISEASE: what does it mean?

In a previous article published, we spoke about Acute Limb Ischeamia (ALI) as one of the vascular diseases worthy of note in many developing countries. ALI is a condition that reduces flow of blood to the limbs due to the presence of a blood clot. But this condition, in many cases, is secondary to Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).

In this article, our aim is to bring to your knowledge the medical condition known as PAD, which is also a vascular emergency. This article should help you understand what is peripheral artery disease (PAD) and enable you recognize its causes, symptoms and what can be done.

What is Peripheral Artery Disease?

Unlike acute limb ischeamia that affects both arteries and viens, peripheral artery disease (PAD), is a vascular disease that affects only the arteries responsible for carrying oxygenated blood to all parts of the body.

Peripheral Artery Disease is a condition in which the blood vessels (in this case the arteries) becomes narrowed, which is mostly caused by an accumulation of fats (cholesterol) in the arterial walls. This leads to a limited amount of blood flow to the limbs.

PAD affects both upper and lower limbs, but it is most common in the lower limbs. When the arteries are blocked by fats (cholesterol), it is generally referred to as Artherosclerosis in medical language. 

Blood flow can become severely reduced by atherosclerosis to the point where the tissues around a particular artery doesn’t get enough oxygenated blood which is rich in nutrients for their survival. When this happens, one can start exhibiting symptoms that indicate possible peripheral artery disease.

Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease

The most common symptom of PAD is known in medical terms as Claudication. Claudication refers to a sharp pain in your foot that happens during physical activities like runnig, jogging or even walking, and eases when you are at rest. 

Other signs and symptoms of PAD include: 

  • Numbness and weakness of the feet.
  • Cramping and pain of the leg, thigh, buttocks and calf.
  • Leg decoloration.
  • Hair loss on your feet.
  • Weak pulse on the affected limb.
  • Coldness of the afected limb.

If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, visit your healthcare professional as soon as possible for proper diagnosis of your symptoms.

Your doctor should be able to figure out whether your symptoms are actually due to PAD or another medical condition. Early diagnosis of PAD by your doctor will prompt early treatment of the condition.

Who is Most at Risk?

People who are prone to peripheral artery disease have a clinical history of an unhealthy diet, with most patients being obese. Other risk factors for PAD include: 

Obesity and smoking are the two most important risk factors for developing PAD. Nicotine found in ciggars increase the buildup of plaque in blood vessels thereby narrowing the free flow of blood.  

Studies have shown that if cigarette smoking were to be reduced,  there would be lesser damage to the arteries.

It is advised that you visit your doctor if you have a history of smoking, high blood presure, diabetes and/or you are obese, and you start having any of the above symptoms.

Medical practioners would run a series of test such as an angiogram to help facilitate their diagnosis considering your symptoms. 

How is Peripheral Artery Disease Treated?

The major complications of PAD are limb ischemia and a heart attack. Both can lead to death if not properly managed, or amputations in the case of an Ischemia.

Treatment for PAD involves the use of various medications. Your doctor will administer drugs to help resolve the problems. The medications include:

  • Anticoagulants, to prevents blood from cloting.
  • Statins, to help eliminate the acumulation of cholesterol in the arterial walls.
  • Vasodilators, to help dilate the arteries, thereby increasing the flow of blood. 

As part of the treatment for PAD and also a prevention strategy, there are some lifestyle changes that you must adopt. They include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Increase physical activities
  • Healthy diet, low in fatty substances.
  • Proper management of diabetes or high blood pressure.

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