It is estimated that one out every 20 American adults over the age of 50 suffer from peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD results from plaque build-up that clogs arteries in the limbs, primarily the legs. Just like arteries in the heart, these types of blockages greatly increase the risk of catastrophic health events such as heart attack or stroke and may also result in the need for amputation.
Unfortunately, PAD is subtle. In fact, it is so subtle that it may cause no symptoms whatsoever, and for those who do experience PAD symptoms such as leg cramping or pain, the signs are often attributed as a normal part of aging. This makes patient awareness of PAD risk factors and symptoms vital to the health of millions. If you are over the age of 50, the following risk factors are of particular importance to you. If you have any of these, you should be especially vigilant in monitoring your health and addressing any potential PAD symptoms.
Smoking and PAD Risk
Smokers are at an increased risk for many health conditions, including those affecting the heart and arteries. For this reason, Cardiovascular Institute of the South places exceptional effort in helping patients quit through our smoking cessation program, Commit to Quit.
When it comes to PAD, smokers are at a risk that is four times higher than non-smokers. Chemicals found in cigarettes damage and inflame cells that line blood vessels and increase the risk of plaque build-up. The more a patient smokes, the greater the damage and the higher the risk of developing PAD. And while smokers will always carry an increased PAD risk, quitting can help reduce this risk dramatically.
High Blood Pressure and PAD Risk
Monitoring and treating high blood pressure is crucial for a number of reasons, including its connection to PAD. When left untreated, high blood pressure can narrow and damage arteries in the heart or limbs, allowing fatty deposits to build-up over time. Eventually, these deposits can develop into large blockages, creating a very dangerous situation for the heart.
High Cholesterol and PAD Risk
The body relies on a balance of both good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. While LDL cholesterol contributes to plaque deposits in the arteries, HDL helps with the cleanup, removing LDL from the arteries, and taking it back to the liver to be broken down. When LDL levels are too high and HDL levels are too low, a potential artery blockage can occur.
Diabetes and PAD Risk
Diabetes results from the body’s inability either to produce insulin or to use insulin properly. When not well-controlled, diabetes can cause increased levels of blood sugar which may damage arteries, making way for plaque build-up. This type of damage occurs so frequently that diabetics over the age of 50 have a dramatically higher PAD risk than the general population, with one in three suffering from the condition.
Race and PAD Risk
Research shows that African Americans are more than twice as likely to develop PAD. The most likely explanation for this link is the prevalence of the risk factors among African American patients. African Americans also have a greater likelihood of being smokers and suffering from associated health conditions such as hypertension or diabetes.
Although few patients are aware of the symptoms, risks, and frequency of peripheral artery disease in adults over 50, the potential consequences are far too great to be ignored. At Cardiovascular Institute of the South, we have placed a priority on educating the public about PAD. Our physicians are among the most skilled in the nation, using the latest technology to identify and treat PAD and greatly reducing complications, including amputation. To learn more about this condition, as well as our services, visit our PAD patient resource center.