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Listen to Your Legs: Pain Could Signal Artery Blockage

Submitted by Carlos Neves, MD

How you can prevent PAD

Do you have pain in your legs? It could be PAD.

It’s easy to dismiss an aching hip or cramped legs as just part of getting older, especially if it flares up during walking or exercise.

But, as with most pain, your body is trying to tell you something, and it’s best to listen.

Pain in the legs or hip, especially while walking uphill, could be a sign of problems in the arteries that deliver blood to your lower body. Because it occurs at the peripheral extremities of your body, this condition is called “peripheral artery disease,” also known as PAD.

It affects about 10 million Americans, including about one in five adults over the age of 70.
PAD is usually caused by the buildup of fatty deposits called plaque in your arteries, limiting blood flow to the legs.

When there is plaque in the legs, there is often plaque elsewhere in the body, which can have potentially deadly results. People with PAD are at a much higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Though the risks of PAD can be frightening, we have effective options for its treatment and prevention.

At Beebe Vascular in Lewes, we offer the full spectrum of treatment for PAD. Because a more active lifestyle and a healthier diet can prevent heart attack and stroke while treating PAD, it’s our first resort.

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, a research-based treatment program, can provide a series of guideposts to help you prevent or slow the progression of PAD and heart disease.

First, you’ll need to know who should be on the lookout for PAD, and what they should look for.

Who is at risk for PAD?

People with diabetes, older adults, people who smoke and those with high blood pressure or cholesterol are more likely to have PAD, just as they are more likely to have heart disease. The two conditions share these risk factors because they share a cause: plaque buildup.

It’s especially important to know your risk because most people with the condition have no symptoms, earning it a reputation as a stealthy threat. 

Luckily, we can perform a quick and painless test to see if you have PAD. It involves taking the blood pressure in your arms and ankles. If your blood is moving more slowly in your ankles compared with your arms, it’s a good bet PAD is the cause.

For those who do experience symptoms of PAD, they typically involve pain, cramps or weakness in one or both legs. In these cases, the pain appears when you’re active and goes away when you rest, but untreated PAD can worsen over time to the point of pain even at rest.

What can you do about it?

Procedures can effectively treat PAD, but they work best when paired with an exercise program and appropriate medications.

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, offered exclusively in Delaware by Beebe Healthcare, is proven to treat and reverse the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart. Its four key elements are:

  • A low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet.
  • At least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
  • A practice of stress management techniques.
  • Active engagement in supportive relationships.

When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, our vascular surgeons offer medications to slow down or stabilize plaque buildup and procedures to open plaque-filled arteries. Many of our patients qualify for what are called “minimally invasive” procedures.

This approach allows us to limit the size of an incision, which lets patients recover faster – typically days to weeks, not months.

A warning to heed

PAD is like an alarm bell for potential threats to your heart and brain, and it can also impair your body’s ability to heal wounds. Normal wound healing requires oxygen, which can be limited if blood flow is cut off from part of the legs.

In extreme cases, a limb that does not heal may need to be amputated.

People with diabetes need to pay special attention to these risks, because diabetes can increase the accumulation of artery plaque and speed up the progression of PAD.

At Beebe Vascular, treatment of PAD has three major goals: Relieve your pain to maintain your quality of life, minimize your risk of heart attack and stroke and heal wounds while preserving the use and appearance of your arms and legs.

The pain of PAD can be frustrating, but it’s also an opportunity to take stock of your heart and brain health.

Carlos Neves, MD

Carlos Neves, MD, is a vascular surgeon at Beebe Vascular who provides a range of treatment options — including medication, supervised exercise and procedures — to help patients live their best life. He is board certified and fellowship trained in vascular and endovascular surgery. To learn more about Beebe Vascular in Lewes, call (302) 703-9300 or visit www.beebehealthcare.org/vascular.

To find out how Beebe Healthcare is creating the next generation of care for the community, go to www.nextgenerationofcare.org.
 

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