Peripheral artery disease

woman with leg pain

Take steps to avoid a painful path to poor health

If you’re an older adult and have leg pain, don’t assume it’s a natural part of aging. It could be a sign of an impending heart attack or stroke. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition that causes narrowing of the arteries in the legs, and more than doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

“PAD can cause leg pain while walking, and in its most severe form lead to limb loss,” said vascular surgeon Glenn E. Lambert, M.D. “It is associated with arterial problems that can lead to stroke and heart attack because blockage in the arteries of the legs may be an indicator of blockages in arteries leading to the heart and brain.”

Aside from pain, symptoms of PAD include cramps and a tired or heavy feeling in the calves, thighs or buttocks when exercising, even when walking just a short distance. Symptoms usually subside after resting. Pain is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries. If plaque loosens, it can clump together and cause a clot. The clot can block blood flow to the heart or brain, possibly resulting in a heart attack or stroke.

“When a patient is diagnosed with PAD, we screen for other conditions elsewhere,” Dr. Lambert said. “Screening allows us to find patients who have not yet had symptoms and intervene early to prevent stroke or rupture of an aortic aneurysm.”

Only about half of people with PAD feel pain or discomfort, so it’s important to understand the risk factors and talk to a doctor about getting tested before symptoms develop. Anyone over age 70 is at risk as well as individuals over age 50 with at least one of the following factors: high blood pressure; high cholesterol; diabetes; smoker or former smoker; family history of heart attack or stroke.

“Along with PAD screening, we screen for narrowing of the carotid arteries and aortic aneurysm,” Dr. Lambert said. “Narrowing of the carotid arteries is one of the three most common causes of stroke. Aortic aneurysm is a silent killer – there are rarely symptoms until rupture occurs. “I’ve seen two patients this year saved by screenings that detected large aneurysms.”

Outcomes don’t have to be bleak if PAD is caught early. There are simple treatments, such as medication and lifestyle changes. Surgical procedures can correct more serious cases.

–Jennifer Stewart

 


Norton Heart Care Classes & Support Groups

Circle of Hearts – Farm to Table
September 18, 2014, 6 to 8 p.m.
Norton Health and Wellness Center
100 Dupont Road
Heart-healthy cooking demonstration led by Chef Dyrol Underwood.
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Circle of Hearts – Dancing for your Heart
October 16, 2014, 6 to 8 p.m.
Ballroom East
906 Dupont Road
Instructor guided ballroom dancing (partner dancing). It is recommended to bring a partner with you. Please wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Do not wear tennis shoes. Wear shoes with leather bottoms. Only wear heels if you are comfortable in them and a heel height you are used to.
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WomenHeart Support Group
Marshall Women’s Center, Suite 108-1B
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August 6, 2014, noon to 1:30 p.m.
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September 11, 2014, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Topic: Anxiety

September 24, 2014, noon to 1:30 p.m.
Topic: Depression

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November 19, 2014, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
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November 26, 2014, noon to 1:30 p.m.