Health Screening For Peripheral Arterial Disease

More commonly known as “hardening of the arteries,” peripheral arterial disease affects between 8 and 12 million people in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (2008).

The Institute estimates that half of people with peripheral arterial disease don’t know they have it, since it’s often asymptomatic. This makes health screening for peripheral arterial disease essential, in order to identify the condition and treat it in its earliest stages.

What is Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Peripheral arterial disease develops when different parts of your body aren’t getting enough blood because fatty deposits (called “plaques”) have built up along the walls of the arteries, restricting blood flow. This condition is called “atherosclerosis,” and it can lead to many serious health conditions, in addition to peripheral arterial disease.

Although peripheral arterial disease is most often seen in the legs, it’s often a sign of widespread atherosclerosis, which could be reducing blood flow to your heart and brain.

Not all people with peripheral arterial disease have symptoms. Of those that do, the most common is leg cramping during physical activity. Other symptoms include:

  • Coldness in the limbs
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Sores on your legs or feet that don’t heal
  • Weak pulse in your legs and feet.

If you notice any of these symptoms and think they may be related to peripheral arterial disease, schedule a medical screening test with your doctor.

Why is Peripheral Arterial Disease Health Screening Important?

Peripheral arterial disease is more than just a passing discomfort. Your risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and mini-strokes is six to seven times greater if you have peripheral arterial disease, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (2008).

Leg pain when walking or climbing stairs isn’t an inevitable part of aging. If you experience such symptoms, talk to your doctor about a medical screening test or peripheral arterial disease.

Health screening for peripheral arterial disease can help you take prompt, preventive action or treat existing atherosclerosis, helping to prevent against stroke and heart attack.

Is Peripheral Arterial Disease Health Screening Right for Me?

Other risk factors for peripheral arterial disease include:

  • Age (older people are at increased risk)
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of peripheral arterial disease
  • High blood pressure and/or cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking.

How Does Peripheral Arterial Disease Screening Work?

Health screening for peripheral arterial disease may involve a physical exam, blood test, angiography and ultrasound.

The most common medical screening test for peripheral arterial disease is the ankle-brachial index, which compares the blood pressure in your ankle with that in your arm. This health screening can include measurements taken before and after exercise.

After Peripheral Arterial Disease Screening

Lifestyle changes and medication can prevent and minimize the effects of peripheral arterial disease.

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (2008), smoking is more closely related to the development of peripheral arterial disease than any other risk factor. Quitting smoking can cut your risks significantly.

Other treatment options include:

  • Angioplasty, an operation that repairs and clears damaged arteries
  • Controlling diabetes
  • Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Losing weight
  • Taking medication to lower cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Reducing fat and salt intake.

Resources

American Heart Association. (n.d.). About peripheral artery disease. Retrieved October 14, 2010, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/PeripheralArteryDisease/About-Peripheral-Artery-Disease-PAD_UCM_301301_Article.jsp

Life Line Screening. (n.d.). Peripheral arterial disease/ABI screening. Retrieved October 14, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/peripheral-arterial-disease.aspx

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Peripheral artery disease. Retrieved October 14, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/peripheral-arterial-disease/DS00537

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2008). What is peripheral arterial disease? Retrieved October 14, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/pad/pad_what.html