Peripheral arterial disease not always due to age
The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.
Sept. 24–PANAMA CITY — A common condition that affects millions of Americans causes symptoms that can be dismissed as a result of aging.
But peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can be treated to improve patients’ quality of life.
Peripheral arterial or vascular disease is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries of the body that prevents oxygen and nutrient flow to the tissues. The tissue that can be affected by the blockages include the toes, kidneys, intestines and even brain.
PAD, or PVD, affects up to 12 million individuals nationally, and half of those are asymptomatic. Only 15 percent of people that have the condition are diagnosed and treated. There are nearly 4 million people that think their leg pain and decreased mobility is just part of the aging process, said vascular surgeon Dr. Bud Shuler.
“The hardening of our arteries or plaque buildup that clogs the arteries starts in your teenage years,” Shuler said.
Shuler is a board-certified vascular surgeon with additional board certifications in vascular medicine and phlebotomy, or vein specialist, and he is a provider for Vascular Associates.
Diagnosis of peripheral artery or vascular disease is based on a physical examination and confirmed with blood pressure studies of the legs and ultrasounds of the arteries. The disease primarily affects patients over the age of 55.
“Why it is important is that the plaque buildup blocks blood flow and it is a marker of future heart attacks or strokes,” Shuler said.
The symptom that has most patients seeking medical input is when they have mobility issues and their “legs just won’t go anymore.”
“A sign of vascular disease is when a patient can’t walk anymore,” Shuler said. “When patients can walk, take a break and the pain goes away, that reproducible pain or same distance of exercise is a sign … leg pain is not necessarily a sign of old age.”
Patients that lose blood flow to their feet can also lose feeling in their lower extremities. The lack of blood flow and nutrients can cause wounds to form and prevent them from healing. Shuler recommends general good foot care to help patients and seeking help if there are wounds that will not heal.
“See a vascular specialist if you have a wound that won’t heal,” Shuler said.
The remedies for peripheral vascular disease include medication, increased exercise and surgery. Some remedies that patients are encouraged to explore include quitting smoking, working to control diabetes, maintaining a healthy blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.
If clot formation continues, surgical care may become necessary. Shuler’s preference when operating on a patient in the flexible peripheral arteries is to “roto-rooter” the blockage and then use a balloon stint.
“It’s a hybrid procedure but it is minimally invasive,” Shuler said.
Patients with peripheral vascular disease need to be treated the same way as patients that had a cardiac event, according to Shuler. Mainly that means that patients should continue to see a vascular specialist for regular checkups.