Atherosclerosis is a systemic disease that can affect all of the arteries in the body. When cholesterol buildup or blockages obstruct the arteries that feed the outer appendages – usually the legs -- that specific condition is called Peripheral Artery Disease, or PAD.
The National Heart Lung & Blood Institute estimates more than 8 million Americans over the age of 40 suffer – even unknowingly – from PAD.
Blood flow traffic jams that characterize PAD can pop up anyplace along the route from the heart to the toes, according to Dr. Richard Kovach, an interventional cardiologist at Deborah. “The zones that we’re talking about can occur anywhere from where the aorta splits into the two main arteries that go to the legs,” he says, “to the major artery in the thigh, and below the knee where the artery normally divides into three smaller branches that go down to the feet. You can develop atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries or plaque growth and blockages of the arteries anywhere along that vascular tree.”
While the cramping, discomfort, fatigue and visual signs such as color and skin changes that are PAD hallmarks are most common in the lower legs, higher blockages can cause abdominal symptoms mistaken for gastric problems, hip pain assumed to be arthritis and buttock and thigh pain brushed off as sciatica.
Unfortunately, the longer PAD goes untreated, the more dramatic the possible consequences, including gangrene in blood-starved tissues that prompt amputation.
KYW’s Rasa Kaye talks with Dr. Kovach about the signs and symptoms of PAD, the great strides that have been made in non-invasive diagnostic tools and interventions, and the latest in surgical options when needed. (And a bonus bit of vocabulary trivia!)
Do your legs hurt? Evaluate your risk for PAD.