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Peripheral Artery Disease

What is peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is narrow, weak, or blocked arteries outside of your heart and brain. PAD is usually the result of a buildup of fat and cholesterol, also called plaque, along your artery walls. Inflammation, a blood clot, or abnormal cell growth could also block your arteries. PAD prevents normal blood flow to your legs and arms. You are at risk of an amputation if poor blood flow keeps wounds from healing or causes gangrene (tissue death). Without treatment, PAD can also cause a heart attack or stroke.

What increases my risk for PAD?

  • Smoking cigarettes

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Age older than 40 years

  • Heart disease or a family history of heart disease

What are the signs and symptoms of PAD?

Mild PAD usually does not cause symptoms. As the disease worsens over time, you may have the following:

  • Pain or cramps in your leg or hip while you walk

  • A numb, weak, or heavy feeling in your legs

  • Dry, scaly, red, or pale skin on your legs

  • Thick or brittle nails, or hair loss on your arms and legs

  • Foot sores that will not heal

  • Burning or aching in your feet and toes while resting (this may be worse when you lie down)

How is PAD diagnosed?

  • Angiography is a test that shows images of the arteries in your arms and legs. You will be given a dye to help the arteries show up better on the pictures. The pictures will be taken with an MRI or CT scan. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • Doppler ankle brachial index (ABI) is a test that compares blood pressure in your ankles to blood pressure in your arms. This helps your caregiver know how well blood is flowing through the arteries in your legs.

  • A treadmill exercise test measures blood flow through your arteries before and after exercise.

How is PAD treated?

Treatment can help reduce your risk of a heart attack, stroke, or amputation. You may need more than one of the following:

  • Antiplatelet medicine , such as aspirin, helps prevent blood clots and reduces the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

  • Exercise rehabilitation is a program to increase how far you can walk without pain. Caregivers will help you safely walk or do strength training exercises 3 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes. You will do this for several months, then transition to walking on your own. This program helps you stay active in normal daily activities and may prevent disability caused by PAD.

  • Angioplasty is a procedure to open your artery so blood can flow through normally. A thin tube called a catheter is used to insert a small balloon into your artery. The balloon is inflated to open your blocked artery, and then removed. A tube called a stent may be placed in your artery to hold it open.

  • Bypass surgery is used to make a new connection to your artery with a vein from another part of your body, or an artificial graft. The vein or graft is attached to your artery above and below your blockage. This allows blood to flow around the blocked portion of your artery.

How can I manage PAD?

  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Quitting smoking may reduce your pain and other symptoms. It also helps reduce your risk that PAD will lead to a stroke, heart attack, or amputation. Ask your caregiver for information if you need help quitting.

  • Manage other health conditions. Take your medicines as directed. Follow your caregiver's instructions if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Perform foot care and check your blood sugar levels as directed if you have diabetes.

  • Eat heart healthy foods. Eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables every day. Limit salt and high-fat foods. Ask your caregiver for more information on a heart healthy diet. Ask if you need to lose weight. Your caregiver can help you create a healthy weight-loss plan.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You have leg pain when you walk 1/8 mile (200 meters) or less, even with treatment.

  • Your legs are red, dry, or pale, even with treatment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have sores or wounds that will not heal.

  • You notice black or discolored skin on your arm or leg.

  • Your skin is cool to the touch.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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