Short for peripheral artery disease, PAD is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to the limbs, head and organs. Most often, the condition affects the legs but can strike in practically any area of the body.
At Summit Surgical Specialists, PAD is diagnosed and treated by a team of vascular specialists who work to ensure an optimal outcome for each patient.
Peripheral Artery Disease Risk Factors and Causes
African Americans and older people are more likely to suffer from PAD. While those risk factors can’t be avoided, others can, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
As with a heart attack, PAD comes about when plaque (cholesterol and fats) builds up in the arteries. But PAD doesn’t stop blood flow to the heart. It keeps it from the body’s limbs and other body parts.
Signs and Symptoms of Peripheral Artery Disease
The most common limbs affected by PAD are the legs. Once it sets in, PAD in the legs often causes pain, particularly when exercising or climbing stairs. This pain may stop once the physical exertion ends, but it might not. Leg-related PAD also causes problems with walking, changes in skin color, and other unwanted symptoms.
If caught and treated early, full recovery from PAD is usually possible. However, untreated PAD in the legs and other extremities can result in gangrene and amputation, as the affected body part suffers a complete lack of circulation. When PAD affects an artery that leads to the brain (carotid artery), it leads to stroke if not treated.
Peripheral Artery Disease Diagnosis
Catching PAD is normally a simple, noninvasive process. If PAD is suspected, a physician will likely start with an ankle-brachial index (ABI). During this quick test, the blood pressure in the feet is compared to that of the arms. This shows how well blood is flowing throughout the body and often indicates or rules out PAD.
Other testing methods include ultrasound, other external imaging options, and angiography. For an angiogram, the physician injects a special dye into the arteries. This dye shows up clearly on X-ray images, which allows the physician to pinpoint any areas with slowed blood flow.
Treatment for Peripheral Artery Disease
In the majority of cases, PAD is treated with lifestyle modifications, treatment of underlying causes such as diabetes and medication. When these are not sufficient to stop PAD in its tracks, other options are available, including the following:
- balloon angioplasty — a tiny balloon is placed at the buildup site and inflated, pushing plaque against the artery walls and allowing blood to flow freely
- stent placement — a mesh tube is inserted at the site of the buildup and opened to allow increased blood flow
- bypass surgery — a healthy artery is harvested from the body and used to create a permanent bypass around the blocked area