March 01, 2014

Peripheral artery disease

Heart health for your legs

Peripheral artery disease

You've had countless blood pressure readings, but you've never had the blood pressure in your arms and legs measured at the same time. The results were an unpleasant surprise. Your doctor says you have clogged (occluded) arteries in your legs — a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD).

It's estimated that 15 to 20 percent of adults 70 and older have PAD, a condition that can cause leg pain or discomfort while walking that goes away with a brief rest. Without treatment, PAD can worsen, with leg pain occurring at rest, leg wounds that won't heal, tissue death and even amputation. Moreover, there's a greatly increased risk of having artery disease in other areas, such as your kidneys, brain or heart.

Unfortunately, PAD often gets overlooked, as up to half of those with PAD have no noticeable symptoms, while others have vague symptoms. That makes testing for PAD an important consideration for older adults, as PAD can be stabilized — and even improved — primarily by taking steps to improve your cardiovascular health.

Artery health

The most common cause of PAD is the hardening and narrowing of arteries, which is a disease called atherosclerosis. Narrowed or blocked arteries reduce blood flow to organs or limbs. In the case of PAD, atherosclerosis occurs in the leg or arm arteries but is much more prominent in the legs.

In addition to aging, risk factors of PAD caused by atherosclerosis include smoking, having diabetes, being overweight, lack of exercise, high blood...