Aching legs might be a sign of a disease that affects some eight-million Americans.
It's called peripheral arterial disease, or PAD for short. Just like the arteries around your heart, those in the rest of the body can become blocked, too. PAD is a narrowing of an artery that supplies blood to your legs. It can affect the arms, too, but legs are more common.
Dr. Patrick Sheehy with the Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center says the classic symptom of PAD is pain in the calf or leg. He says it develops over time and, with our aging population, is affecting more people.
Because of that, Topeka's Stormont-Vail HealthCare established a PAD Clinic within the Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center. Launched nine months ago, Nancy Katherns, RN, who heads it up, says it's designed to help people get the care they need as soon as possible.
Those who are identified at risk of possibly having PAD are referred to her, where the first step is getting an ankle brachial index. The procedure is basically comparing blood pressure in the arms and the feet. Normally, they should match. Katherns says if the blood pressure in the feet is considerably lower, it's assumed there's some sort of blockage in the leg.
If a problem is suspected, the PAD Clinic will coordinate further evaluation and treatment. The clinic also provides the added benefit of patient education. Katherns says they spend a lot of time going over a person's risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and a history of vascular disease, either in themselves or a family member.
If the PAD isn't causing any symptoms, Dr. Sheehy says changing your risk factors may be enough. If not, surgery to use a balloon or stent to reopen the blockage may be necessary. However, ignoring it entirely is not an option. If the blockage become serious enough, Dr. Sheehy says it could cut off circulation, killing the tissue and perhaps leading to amputation.
Anyone experiencing symptoms including prolonged leg pain, especially when walking, or a sore or infection in the leg or foot that isn't going away should talk to their doctor to determine if a PAD evaluation might be necessary.