How to Protect Yourself from Peripheral Artery Disease


For the last six months or so, I have been having problems with my hips and legs cramping when I walk, although they feel better once I stop. I thought it was just because I am getting older, until my friend told me about a leg disease called Peripheral Artery Disease. I am concerned that I may have it. What can you tell me about this condition?

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a health condition that affects up to 12 million Americans. It develops 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.

You need to be aware that PAD is a systemic disease. As such, people who have PAD are also much more likely to have clogged arteries in other areas of the body like the heart, neck or brain, which greatly increase the risks of heart attack or stroke.

Few Symptoms

Unfortunately, PAD goes undiagnosed and untreated far too often because most people who have it experience few, if any, symptoms. The most common symptom is similar to what you are experiencing, which is pain and cramping in the hip, thigh or calf muscles. The pain often intensifies when walking or exercising, but usually subsides after resting for a few minutes.

Another reason PAD is under-diagnosed is because many people assume that aches and pains go along with aging and simply live with it instead of reporting it to their doctors.

Other possible symptoms to be aware of include leg numbness or weakness, coldness or changes in skin color in the lower legs and feet and ulcers or sores on the legs or feet that do not heal.

Are You at Risk?

Like many health conditions, the risk of developing PAD increases with age. Those most vulnerable are people over the age of 50 with a history of smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. Also at risk, are those who are overweight or have a family history of PAD, heart attack or stroke. African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with PAD.

If you are experiencing any symptoms or if you are at increased risk of developing PAD, you should be tested by your doctor or vascular specialist. He or she may perform a quick and painless ankle-brachial index test, which is done by measuring the blood pressure in your ankle and your arm and comparing the two numbers.

With early detection, many cases of PAD can be treated with lifestyle modifications including an improved diet, increased physical activity and smoking cessation.

If lifestyle changes are not enough, your doctor may also prescribe medicine to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and control pain and other symptoms. For severe PAD, the treatment options are angioplasty (inflating and then removing a tiny balloon in the artery to restore blood flow), the insertion of a stent to reopen the artery or a graft bypass to reroute blood around the blockage.

To learn more about PAD, visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.


Published November 3, 2017

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