The American Heart Association (AHA) defines peripheral vascular disease, also known as PVD, as diseases affecting the blood vessels outside of the heart and brain. PVD is a narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to our arms, legs and abdominal organs. More specifically, peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is a type of PVD caused by atherosclerosis, or fatty buildup of plaque, in the inner walls of arteries. These deposits block the normal blood flow.
Why do we care about PAD?
Arteries work to deliver blood and oxygen to our extremities. If there is significant stenosis or narrowing within an artery, the affected extremity could become poorly perfused (meaning lack of oxygen) which can lead to non healing ulcers, gangrene and even death. Most patients with PAD have a higher likelihood for stroke and heart attacks.
Risk factors for PAD
The National Institutes of Health reports that PAD usually occurs in men and women over the age of 50. Having other medical problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can contribute to the development of PAD. A history of smoking, coronary artery disease and stroke are also considered common causes for PAD.
While we may not have control over our family history, many risk factors can be modified. Here are some suggestions from the AHA:
- Smoking – QUIT!
Smokers are 4 times more likely to develop PAD than are non smokers. Quitting smoking may also decrease your risk for stroke, heart attack and certain cancers
- Obesity – Lose weight
People with a body mass index greater than 25 are more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes, two common risk factors for PAD
- Diabetes – control your blood sugar and monitor your diet. Keep HgbA1C < 7%
- Physical inactivity – get moving
Simple physical activities like walking (for 30 minutes , 3-4 times/ week) can increase the distance that people with PAD can walk without pain. It is a part of a healthful lifestyle and is good for heart health, also
- High cholesterol – control your cholesterol levels. Goal total cholesterol 60 mg/dl, LDL (low density lipoprotein = bad cholesterol)
Cholesterol contributes to the development of atherosclerosis or the fatty buildup that causes PAD
- High blood pressure – control your blood pressure. Goal <120/80 mmHg
Also, known as the “silent killer”, hypertension has no symptoms until it becomes uncontrolled.