Vascular Disease

What is peripheral artery disease and why should I be screened for it?

Peripheral vascular disease—also called peripheral arterial disease or PAD—is the hardening of the arteries or veins outside the chest. In older people, a buildup of plaque often occurs in blood vessels of the legs and the carotid arteries of the neck. The result is decreased blood flow or a blood clot. Decreased blood flow or a blood clot in a leg reduces circulation and can cause open sores that don’t heal or infections that can lead to loss of the leg. If a blood clot occurs in the neck, a stroke can result.

Peripheral vascular disease affects about eight million people in the United States, including an estimated 12 to 20 percent of Americans ages 65 and older. Over the age of 80, 26 percent of men are affected and 20 percent of women.

Risk factors are similar to those for heart disease. Smoking is the greatest risk factor, and individuals who smoke and also have diabetes are at greatest risk. Other risk factors include heart disease, a family history of heart disease or PAD, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and lack of physical activity.

Symptoms of PAD in the legs include aching of the legs or hips that occurs when exercising, such as when walking or climbing stairs, but subsides upon resting. Cramps may occur when the leg is fatigued. (Leg cramps at night are often cause by low calcium levels, unrelated to PAD.) Other symptoms are sores on the legs or feet that don’t heal and lack of feeling in the legs or feet. When an artery is partially blocked, the feet might feel cold or painful.

Symptoms of blockage in the carotid arteries of the neck are similar to those of a stroke. They might include loss of vision in one eye, a feeling of dizziness or spinning. PAD can be treated just as blocked coronary arteries are treated.

Common treatments include lifestyle changes, medications, and exercise programs. If the disease is advanced, angioplasty, clot-dissolving drugs, or bypass surgery may be necessary.

Think you may be at risk? If you answer “YES” to 2 of these questions, you should consider seeing a vascular specialist on staff at Kansas Physician Group.

  • Do your legs get tired, heavy or ache when you work?
  • Do they recover when you walk?
  • Do you have problems with healing sores on your feet or lower legs?
  • James A.M. Smith, DO specializes in Vascular Disease at Kansas Physician Group. Learn more about his background.