Many people with arterial disease are entirely symptom-free, while others experience leg pain when walking. So how do you know when to see a doctor?
The team at Peak Heart & Vascular, with six Arizona locations, specializes in diagnosing and treating arterial disease, such as peripheral artery disease (PAD). They shared these insights into this condition and how to detect signs of a problem.
Arterial disease basics
Your vascular system has two types of vessels that keep blood circulating continuously throughout your body: veins and arteries.
When blood returns to your heart, it passes through veins. This type of blood vessel has a small flap inside that keeps blood flowing in the right direction. Veins also include some of the smallest blood vessels in your body, capillaries.
As blood leaves your heart, it passes through the largest artery in your body — your aorta. Then, it branches off into a complex network of arteries that run through your head and neck, trunk, and upper and lower extremities. This process keeps your tissues and organs supplied with oxygen-rich blood. When you have arterial disease, blockages begin to develop inside an artery wall. This can occur for different reasons, including the buildup of fat and cholesterol deposits, or plaque. One common form of arterial disease involves the peripheral arteries.
Recognizing peripheral artery disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) means your legs — and sometimes arms — don’t receive enough blood. This circulation problem can lead to a variety of symptoms, such as:
- Muscle cramping, especially after activities like walking
- Pain that improves with rest
- Numbness, weakness, or heaviness in your legs
- Discolored or shiny skin on your legs
- Slow growth or hair loss on your legs and feet
- Rashes or chronic wounds on your toes, feet, or legs
- A weak or absent pulse in your feet or legs
- Coldness in your foot or lower leg
- Erectile dysfunction
You can also have PAD and have few, if any symptoms. Unfortunately, without treatment, PAD can put you at risk of serious health complications, including stroke, heart attack, infections, gangrene, and limb amputation. Knowing your personal risks can help you detect a problem before serious issues arise.
Understanding your risks of PAD
Anyone can develop peripheral artery disease, or PAD. However, people who smoke or have diabetes have the highest risk of developing this condition. Other factors that increase your chances include:
- High cholesterol or high blood pressure
- A family history of PAD, stroke, or heart disease
- Being African-American or Hispanic
Aging also increases your chances of PAD, especially once you reach 65, or reach 50 and have thickened or hardened arteries, a disease known as atherosclerosis. To reduce your risk of peripheral arterial disease, quit smoking, exercise regularly, watch your weight, and monitor your cholesterol. Taking these steps could even reverse a lot of arterial damage. But in the cases where it doesn’t, our team at Peak Heart & Vascular can treat your PAD.
Diagnosing and treating PAD
Our team takes several steps to diagnose PAD. First, we perform a physical exam and review your health history, risks, and symptoms, if present. Based on these findings, we could recommend additional screenings, such as:
- Ankle-brachial index (ABI)
- Blood tests
If arterial disease has already occurred in the arteries of your heart, or of your lower extremities, these conditions can be treated.
Our physicians at Peak Heart & Vascular specialize in treatment of peripheral artery disease (PAD) and coronary artery disease (CAD). Often, this involves minimally invasive treatments that are done at an outpatient surgery center, meaning you don’t have to be checked into a hospital to have one of these state-of-the-art procedures.
To learn more about arterial disease or assess your risk, schedule a checkup at Peak Heart & Vascular today. Call to book a visit at the office most convenient to you — in Surprise, Avondale, Flagstaff, Laveen, or Phoenix — or request an appointment online.