Leg Pain is a Warning Sign for Vascular Disease Throughout the Body
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), also known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), is a very common condition affecting 12-20 percent of Americans age 65 and older. PAD develops most commonly as a result of atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," which occurs when cholesterol and scar tissue build up, forming a substance called plaque inside the arteries that narrows and clogs the arteries. This is a very serious condition. The clogged arteries cause decreased blood flow to the legs, which can result in pain when walking, and eventually gangrene and amputation.
Because atherosclerosis is a systemic disease, people with PAD are likely to have blocked arteries in other areas of the body. Thus, people with PAD are at increased risk for heart disease, aortic aneurysms and stroke. PAD is also a marker for diabetes, hypertension and other conditions. This is a major public health issue and the Society of Interventional Radiology recommends greater screening efforts through the use of the ankle-brachial index (ABI) test. This simple, painless test compares the blood pressure in the legs to the blood pressure in the arms to determine how well the blood is flowing and if further tests are needed. Each September, during Peripheral Vascular Disease Month, interventional radiologists participate in Legs For Life, a nationwide screening program sponsored by the Society of Interventional Radiology.
The most common symptom of PAD is called claudication, which is leg pain that occurs when walking or exercising and disappears when the person stops the activity.
- Other symptoms of PAD include numbness and tingling in the lower legs and feet; coldness in the lower legs and feet; and ulcers or sores on the legs or feet that don't heal.
- Many people simply live with their pain, assuming it is a normal part of aging, rather than reporting it to their doctor.
- PAD is a disease of the arteries that affects 10 million Americans.
- PAD can happen to anyone, regardless of age, but it is most common in men and women over age 50.
- PAD affects 12-20 percent of Americans age 65 and older.
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High cholesterol
- Family history of heart or vascular disease
- Being overweight
- Lack of exercise or physical activity
- Age over 50
Reprinted with permission of the Society of Interventional Radiology © 2004, www.SIRweb.org. All rights reserved.