Are you unable to walk 1-2 blocks without resting? Do you experience cramping in your calves, legs or buttocks after a short walk? These may be signs of peripheral arterial disease, which affects more than 3 million people per year. This occurs when the blood vessels in the body become narrowed and limit the amount of blood flow that can get to the body. This can then lead to a heart attack, stroke or leg amputation.
Having a leg amputated can be a terrible psychological,physical and traumatic experience. This can mean a tremendous loss in freedom and the ability to complete simple daily tasks from bathing, eating and just simply doing what one wants without assistance. In some cases, having one leg amputated may accelerate the loss of the other leg as the body can not handle the stresses of using only one leg.
Visible signs of PAD (Peripheral Arterial Disease) in the foot may include skin that appears cool, red, dry and hairless. If you observe this in your feet or have a wound or ulceration in the foot does not heal, there is a good chance it may be due to a lack of blood flow. In severe cases, the blood flow may become so reduced that it results in a non-healing sore that is exquisitely painful to touch,referred to as an “ischemic ulceration.” In more advanced cases, the skin may become brown and bark-like or it may look dark-black like a charcoal briquette. This is referred to as “gangrene.” These are both urgent medical conditions that require immediate attention as they can be limb and life threatening. Any of these signs are reason to seek immediate help from your podiatrist, cardiologist or vascular surgeon and primary care provider.
In these more advanced cases, your doctor may opt to do specialized imaging tests such as an angiogram in which dye is injected into the arteries to see which vessels are open and which are closed in the legs. Other exams may include a CT scan or MRI which evaluate the vessels for blockage. Other examination types may include an arterial doppler using ultrasound which uses sound waves over the legs to assess for blockages in the blood vessels. In addition, for less severe cases, other screening exams may include an ABI (ankle brachial index) in which a blood pressure cuff is placed over the arm and ankle and a numerical value is obtained and used to get an understanding of how good or bad the blood flow is to the feet.
These problems can often be prevented and prompt attention can make a difference. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have PAD, please schedule and appointment today and avoid becoming a statistic. Keep your independence and learn what you can do to prevent PAD.
September is the month of PAD awareness. Additional tips and education on PAD can be gotten at https://www.heart.org