Although commonly associated with the heart and brain, artherosclerosis can affect a body right down to its toes.  Peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, occurs when blood vessels in the legs are narrowed or blocked by fatty deposits decreasing the flow of oxygen.

“According to the National Institutes of Health, one in every 20 Americans older than 50 has PAD.  If left untreated, it can lead to lower limb amputation and death,” said Scot Stepleton, Director of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center/Plymouth’s Wound Healing Center.

People with PAD are also at increased risk of heart attack and stroke and are six times more likely to die within 10 years than those without the disease.  The fact that the majority of patients with PAD show no symptoms in part led the U.S. Senate to declare September as Peripheral Arterial Disease Awareness Month in 2007.

There are many noninvasive tests to detect PAD.  Treatments include making lifestyle changes to reduce risk, taking medication to reduce blood pressure or thin the blood, physical therapy, improved foot care, advanced therapies such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy and in extreme cases, surgery.

The local experts at the SJRMC/Plymouth’s Wound Healing Center, a National Healing Corporation Wound Healing Center, outline common risk factors:

  • Slightly more men than women have the disease and, according to the American Heart Association, African-Americans have higher incidences than other ethnic groups as do people with a family history family history of hypertension or atherosclerosis.
  • Since the disease develops gradually, a much higher incidence is seen in elderly patients.
  • The most common symptoms are pain or cramping in one or both legs (often the calf) that occurs with exercise and subsides with rest as well as foot pain that strikes when a patient is lying down in the face up position.
  • Other signs and symptoms are chronic toe and foot sores, numbness in the extremities, weakness and atrophy of the calf muscle, a feeling of coldness in the legs or feet, feet which turn pale when elevated or dusky red in the dependent position and hair loss on the top of the foot.
  • The American College of Physicians states that not smoking or quitting is the most important behavior to prevent PAD or slow it down.  According to the Peripheral Arterial Disease Coalition, smoking even half a pack of cigarettes per day may increase the risk of having PAD by 30 to 50 percent.

  • High blood levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and low blood levels of HDL cholesterol are common risk factors. Lifestyle changes for controlling cholesterol levels include: eating less saturated fats and cutting back on foods high in cholesterol, increasing fiber in the diet, being more physically active and losing weight.

  • People with diabetes are two to four times at greater risk for PAD than the general population and it is important for those with PAD to regulate blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people who have diabetes and are over the age of 50 be tested.

For more information on managing PAD and treating chronic or infected wounds, contact the SJRMC/Plymouth Wound Healing Center located at 1919 Lake Ave., Suite 109, or call 574-941-3140.