At Endovascular Consultants of Colorado (ECCO), we are aware that our reputation as being the best peripheral arterial disease specialists in Colorado comes with a responsibility to educate the public about medical conditions that most people don’t know very much about.
So in this series of three blog posts, we’re going to focus on peripheral arterial disease, or PAD In this first article, we’ll explain how common PAD is, and what the impact of this is. In the two follow-up articles, we’ll explain more about how PAD is diagnosed and treated.
Peripheral arterial disease is MUCH more common than you think Some 1 in 20 Americans over 50 has PAD — that’s 8 to 12 million people. Worldwide, PAD affects over 200 million people, 6 times more than have HIV.
PAD is as serious and as potentially life-threatening as coronary artery disease (CAD). Blockages in the arteries of your legs are often the first signs of a major health problem. Patients often mistake fatigue and cramping leg pain symptoms as “normal signs of aging,” so the condition is seriously underreported. At the same time, the disease is often underdiagnosed by physicians who fail to check for it, even in patients who have other circulatory or cardiology problems.
Thus, PAD often exists “under the radar” and is not detected until it develops into critical limb ischemia and severe arterial blockages. This has resulted in a shocking 23% increase in PAD cases worldwide in the last decade.
What exactly is PAD?
Peripheral arterial disease occurs when your arteries become clogged with fatty deposits (plaque). Cholesterol and other fats circulating in the blood collect in the arteries supplying blood to your extremities.
The plaque adheres to the arterial walls, narrowing them, reducing the flow of blood. This process is referred to as atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries.” If the plaque becomes inflamed, it can cause a blood clot, further narrowing the artery or completely blocking it.
Causes of PAD – factors that mean you’re at risk of developing it
- Age – PAD is most common in people over 50.
- If you smoke or used to smoke. A history of smoking gives you a 4X greater risk of developing PAD. This is the primary risk factor for PAD
- High blood pressure raises the risk of developing plaque, and thus PAD.
- High blood cholesterol also contributes to the formation of plaque.
- If you have diabetes, 1 in 3 diabetics are likely to develop PAD.
- Having a personal history of heart attack, Stroke, or other vascular disease gives you a 1 in 3 chance of also having PAD.
- Family history of PAD. If multiple family members have had PAD, you are almost twice as likely to get it as someone without such a history. The risk is even higher if their PAD developed before they were 68.
- Men and women are equally at risk for PAD, but African Americans are more than twice as likely to develop PAD as other races.
The health risks of having PAD
Untreated PAD can lead to difficulty walking, which has been directly linked to life expectancy. PAD also significantly increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and transient ischemic attack (TIA). Recent studies have shown that:
- 60% of patients with PAD will develop ischemic heart disease and 30% will develop cerebrovascular disease;
- Within 5 years of diagnosis, 10%–15% of PAD patients with intermittent claudication (cramping leg pain) will die from cardiovascular disease;
- Deaths per year were higher among patients with PAD than patients who had suffered a heart attack, and only slightly lower than in patients who had suffered a stroke. Patients with PAD who also had diabetes were at the highest risk of death and other adverse medical events.
Finally, in its most severe stages, PAD can reduce circulation to your extremities so much that it results in gangrene, which can lead to leg or foot amputation. PAD is the leading cause of lower limb amputation.
To find out more about PAD, read parts 2 and 3 of this series. In the meantime, if you have questions about whether you are at risk, give the best peripheral arterial disease specialists in Colorado a call at 720-250-9799 or go online to schedule an appointment. Our PAD specialists are happy to help you.