Arterial blockages can occur throughout the body, posing different threats and symptoms based on their severity and location. In the case of critical limb ischemia (CLI), these blockages are advanced and exist in the lower extremities. As a result, patients may experience symptoms such as extreme pain or non-healing wounds and may even require amputation if left untreated. In order to prevent the development of CLI or to manage it effectively, it is important that any patient at risk for the condition be particularly vigilant in their cardiovascular care.
Risk Factors for Critical Limb Ischemia
In 2006, between 1 million and 2.5 million people in the U.S. had CLI and it is estimated this number will grow to 2.8 million by 2020. There are a few key factors that can increase a patient’s risk of developing CLI, as well as a host of other cardiovascular conditions. Essentially, any factor that may up the odds of developing plaque and arterial blockages must be considered when determining general heart health risk, including CLI. Unfortunately, some, such as a patient’s age or family history, are uncontrollable. However, there are many other, highly impactful risk factors which can be controlled, including the following:
- Smoking – Smoking damages the blood vessels and allows for faster build-up of artery-clogging plaque. In fact, smokers have a risk of developing conditions such as CLI and peripheral artery disease that is up to 50 percent higher than others. Quitting smoking is one of the best steps anyone can take to protect their current and future heart health.
- Diabetes – Diabetic patients are at risk for a number of conditions affecting the extremities due to elevated glucose levels which can damage artery walls, nerves, and more. CLI is just one example of a serious health concern which may impact diabetic patients, particularly those who are also over the age of 50.
- Overweight – Being overweight, obese, or leading a sedentary lifestyle are all hard on the heart. A BMI, or body mass index, of 25 or higher has been shown to increase the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, and conditions such as CLI. Likewise, lack of physical activity and exercise can also play a role. The more active you can remain, the stronger and more effective the cardiovascular system will be.
- High blood pressure or cholesterol – High blood pressure can damage and narrow arterial walls over time, contributing to the development of plaque. Similarly, having levels of good cholesterol that are too low and levels of bad cholesterol that are too high can also allow plaque to build.
CLI is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. Protect your own cardiovascular health by understanding your level of risk and taking control when and where you can to keep it to a minimum. To further safeguard your heart, have a medical professional in your corner such as a cardiologist who can help monitor your risk, your health, and offer guidance for a healthier future.