Dear Savvy Senior,
I started a walking program a few months ago to help me lose some weight, but I’ve been having some problems with my legs hurting during my walk, although they feel better once I stop. I thought it was just the fact that I am 63, but my friend was telling me about a leg-vein disease called PAD and thinks I may have it. What can you tell me?
– Hypertensive Helen
The health condition your friend is telling you about is known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and you probably need to be screened for it. Here’s what you should know.
An under-the-radar condition that affects up to 10 million Americans, PAD happens when the arteries that carry blood to the legs and feet become narrowed or clogged over the years with fatty deposits or plaque, causing poor circulation.
But you also need to be aware that because PAD is a systemic disease, people who have it are also much more likely to have clogged arteries in other areas of the body like the heart, neck, and brain, which greatly increase the risks of heart attack or stroke.
Unfortunately, PAD goes undiagnosed and untreated way too often because most people who have it experience few, if any, symptoms.
The most common symptom, however, is what you’re experiencing now: leg pain, especially when walking or exercising, but which usually disappears after resting for a few minutes.
Another reason PAD is underdiagnosed is because many people assume that aches and pains go along with aging and simply live with it instead of reporting it to their doctor.
Other possible symptoms to be aware of include numbness, tingling, coldness, skin-color changes in the lower legs and feet, or ulcers or sores on the legs or feet that don’t heal.
Are You at Risk?
Like most other health conditions, the risk of developing PAD increases with age. Those most vulnerable are people over the age of 50 who smoke or used to smoke; have elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes; are overweight; or have a family history of PAD, heart attack, or stroke.
If you’re experiencing any of the previously listed symptoms or if you’re at increased risk of PAD, you need to be tested by your doctor or a vascular specialist.
He or she will perform a quick and painless ankle-brachial index test, which is done by measuring your blood pressure in your ankle as well as your arm and comparing the two numbers.
With early detection, most cases of PAD can be treated with lifestyle changes, medication, or both. For those with severe PAD, treatment options could be angioplasty (inflating a tiny balloon in the artery), clot-busting drugs, or bypass surgery.
Savvy Tips: For more information, visit the PAD Coalition website (www.padcoalition.org).
Also, check out Legs For Life (www.legsforlife.org, (800) 488-7284), a national program that offers free PAD screenings in September in around 70 locations nationwide, and the Society for Vascular Surgery (www.vascularweb.org), which provides a listing on their website of nearly 50 healthcare facilities that provide free or low-cost screenings.
Life Line Screening is another convenient screening resource to check into. This is a private company that travels all over the country offering PAD screenings for around $60 per test. To find an upcoming screening in your area, visit www.lifelinescreening.com or call (800) 449-2350.