You probably don’t spend too much time thinking about your arteries, but the serious health risks that come with peripheral artery disease might make you think again. In basic terms, peripheral artery disease causes your blood vessels to narrow over time.
“Those vessels are responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to your vital organs and limbs,” said Dr. Paul J. Corcoran, vascular surgeon at McLaren Greater Lansing. “In some cases, the restriction of that blood flow can cause heart attacks, strokes, difficulty walking and even limb loss.”
You could be at risk from peripheral artery disease because of lifestyle choices, but some patients can inherit the disease from their genetics.
“Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are the biggest factors,” said Corcoran. “The No. 1 way to cut your risk of peripheral artery disease is to quit smoking and controlling risk factors. That alone will help patients improve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.”
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the most common symptoms of peripheral artery disease involving the lower extremities are cramping, pain or tiredness in the leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs. Typically, this pain goes away with rest and returns when you walk again; however, the AHA noted that people should be aware of the following:
- Many people mistake the symptoms of peripheral artery disease for something else.
- Peripheral artery disease often goes undiagnosed by health care professionals.
- People with peripheral arterial disease have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack or stroke.
- Left untreated, peripheral artery disease can lead to gangrene and amputation.
Early detection is the key to managing peripheral artery disease before it ends in health emergencies. Corcoran said the first step is to talk to your doctor to determine if you need to see a specialist. Medical management and rehabilitation can help people avoid surgical procedures, but surgical options include procedures that are minimally invasive.
“Technology and science have brought us a long way in addressing these problems. We can treat narrowed arteries with stents and balloons, or offer a bypass,” said Corcoran. “Most importantly, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about it.”