September is Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) Awareness Month. PAD — commonly referred to as ‘poor circulation’ — is when fatty deposits in the arteries outside the heart (often in the legs) cause blockage or narrowing, resulting in reduced blood flow to the legs and feet. An estimated 8 million people in the U.S. are affected with PAD. One in 20 Americans over age 50 has PAD. People with PAD have up to six times greater chance of heart attack or stroke. PAD and diabetes are the leading causes of foot or leg amputations in the U.S.
Advanced age, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are key risk factors for the development of PAD. Obesity and inactivity are also significant factors. The majority of diagnosed cases are medically managed. These include medications to address blood pressure, cholesterol, manage blood sugar, and prevent clotting; it also includes programs to stop smoking, adopt a healthy diet, and exercise programs. Others require surgical intervention such as angioplasties (balloon procedure) or stents.
One sign of PAD is tiredness or pain in the legs, thighs or buttocks that happens when walking and goes away at rest, known as intermittent claudication. Other signs include toe pain that disturbs sleep and wounds on the feet which are slow to heal. The feet may have a pale or bluish skin color.
Less than half of individuals with PAD know they have it. Every foot exam includes an assessment of the pulses in the foot and the appearance of the foot as well as a history of medical and family health problems and current medications.
If any further information or treatment is needed, your podiatrist will order the appropriate tests and consultations. If you have any of the factors mentioned or a foot wound that does not heal within one month or any foot pain, seek a consultation with your podiatrist who — among other lower extremity issues — will assess for any presence of peripheral arterial disease.