Peripheral artery disease (PAD), also known as peripheral arterial disease, is a common and severe circulatory problem involving the abnormal narrowing of the arteries. When narrowing occurs, parts of the body (particularly the legs and arms) don't receive enough blood to keep up with demand.
This can result in a host of complications such as leg numbness or weakness, painful cramping in hips and thighs after walking, sores on your feet that won't heal, pain when using your arms and infection and tissue death which may result in amputation.
PAD is a form of cardiovascular disease that is typically caused by atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty deposits (called plaques or atheroma) on the walls of arteries.
What Is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged with fatty deposits made up of cholesterol and waste substances. Over time, these plaques cause the arteries to harden and narrow, restricting blood and oxygen flow to vital organs. This increases the risk of blood clots that could block blood flow to the heart or brain.
Among the risk factors that increase a person's risk of developing atherosclerosis are:
- High amounts of some fats and cholesterol in the blood
- High blood pressure
- Regular drinking of excessive amounts of alcohol
- Lack of exercise
- Being obese
- High amounts of sugar in the blood due to diabetes or insulin resistance
- Kidney disease
- Unhealthy diet
If atherosclerosis is left untreated and gets worse, it can potentially lead to any of the following types of cardiovascular disease:
Angina - chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles. It may precede a heart attack.
Coronary heart disease - the main arteries supplying blood to the heart become clogged with fatty deposits.
Strokes - where the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, causing cell death. The two leading causes are blood clots and when a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts.
Heart attacks - blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked. The primary cause of heart attacks is clogging of the major blood vessels that lead to the heart.
Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) - also known as mini-strokes, occur due to a temporary disruption in the supply of blood to the brain.
PAD - where typically blood supply to the legs is blocked.
Diabetes and Atherosclerosis
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, as demonstrated in numerous studies. This elevated risk is due to several factors including:
There is a strong association between high blood glucose levels and atherosclerosis. Excess sugar in the blood leads to increased production of free radicals, reactive molecules that can cause premature cell death. This reduces the availability of nitric oxide, which typically relaxes blood vessels allowing blood to flow freely. Scientists have demonstrated that molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are produced in greater levels by patients with diabetes and that these interfere with enzymes that bring about the production of nitrous oxide.
Free radicals can also damage the thin layer of cells that line the inside of all arteries, called the endothelium. When it's damaged, the body's repair processes swing into action. Injured areas become inflamed, and cholesterol and calcium form patches over them. Layers of these patches eventually reduce the width of arteries.
People with diabetes may have elevated levels of small dense LDL cholesterol, a known risk factor of atherosclerosis.
Diabetes drives inflammation which slows down blood flow and accelerates atherosclerosis. Immune cells traveling in the blood mistake fatty deposits for invaders like bacteria and attack them. This causes inflammation that makes plaques more likely to swell, break off and interrupt blood flow.
Preventing Atherosclerosis and PAD
You can take several steps to help prevent atherosclerosis and, therefore, the development of peripheral artery disease.
Limiting sugar intake and sticking with a low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory diet
Detoxing by quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake if you´re a heavy drinker. Smoking and alcohol are risk factors for atherosclerosis.
Managing your blood pressure. Continuous high blood pressure damages the arterial lining, which sets off the atherosclerotic process.
Detecting and Treating PAD
Here at the Midwest Institute for Non-surgical Therapy (MINT), we specialize in the screening of PAD and state-of-the-art endovascular treatments. If you are concerned about atherosclerosis and think you might be at risk of developing this disease of the arteries, come and talk to one of our friendly and knowledgeable specialists.
To schedule a free consultation, call MINT today on 314 255 2204. We will be able to see you at one of our four convenient locations throughout the St Louis area.